Upside Down Greatness

Richard Daley, the eccentric mayor who served in Chicago for 21 years, had the reputation of being a bulldog boss. Once a speech writer approached him and requested a raise. Daley’s response was, “I’m not going to give you any more money. You’re getting paid more than enough. It should be enough for you to work for a great American hero like myself.”

Two weeks later, Daley gave a speech to honor veterans on Veterans Day. Famous for not reading his speeches in advance, there he stood before a packed house of veterans and media personnel. He spoke eloquently of the forgotten soldiers. He shared how the world had discarded this important group of people. The audience sat spellbound.

“But I care. And today, I am proposing a 17-point program, national, state and citywide to take care of the veterans of this country.”

By this time all the people wanted to know what the mayor would say next. (Daley was pretty interested to find out himself!) Turning the page, Daley read: “You’re on your own now, you great American hero.”

During this month of political jockeying and governmental transition, rulers the world over would do well to learn that true greatness comes by descending into self-abandonment, sacrifice and even death. The greatest ruler to ever live, Jesus Christ, modeled this genre of greatness. Philip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, contrasts the humility that marked Jesus’ royal visit to earth with the prestigious image associated with world rulers today.

"In London, looking toward the auditorium’s royal box where the queen and her family sat, I caught glimpses of the... way rulers stride through the world: with bodyguards, and a trumpet fanfare and a flourish of bright clothes and flashing jewelry. Queen Elizabeth II had recently visited the United States, and reporters delighted in spelling out the logistics involved: her 4,000 pounds of luggage included two outfits for every occasion, a mourning outfit in case someone died, 40 pints of plasma, and white kid-leather toilet seat covers. She brought along her own hairdresser, two valets and a host of other attendants. A brief visit of royalty to a foreign country can easily cost $20 million dollars.

In meek contrast, God’s visit to earth took place in an animal shelter with no attendants present and nowhere to lay the newborn king but a feed trough. Indeed, the event that divided history, and even our calendars, into two parts may have had more animal than human witnesses. A mule could have stepped on him." *

Consider the counsel of the apostle Paul: “ Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave... Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything” (Philippians 2:5–9, The Message).

* Philip Yancey, The Jesus I Never Knew, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), pp. 36–37.

November 01, 2006 / Fresh Start