July is our time for planting our fall crop of cabbage. Most years, the spring rains are a distant memory and the mid-July weather is often hot and dry. Somehow, even in tough conditions, our cabbage transplants have made it through.
All systems were “go” early this month when we began to plant 60,000 transplants. The plants were in good condition, ground prep done, we had plenty of help, and the extended forecast had lots of rain potential.
As we finished the planting, the extended forecast changed dramatically. Near term, our poor transplants, even with copious amounts of transplant water, were really struggling after five days of unrelenting hot, dry weather with no end in sight.
Stress levels among the farm brethren began to rise. Notwithstanding weekly Bible study and prayer time together, the stresses and strains of the season sometimes take their toll. At times like these, we may be tempted to compare ourselves to others.
Take snap beans for example. Our mechanics have our machines ready to work, our operators have to be ready to harvest beans, our volunteer leaders need to organize the bagging process, and someone has to share our mission and message with the volunteers who have signed up to help with the harvest. Is there one who is most important in this chain of events? Ah, yes, the quest for position, power and recognition goes all the way back to Genesis. Our sin nature wants to exalt ourselves. Like the famous boxer Muhammad Ali, whose tagline was “I am the greatest,” we too have that dangerous desire. Why dangerous? Because this desire, throughout history, has been the spark that ignited all sorts of conflict among nations, neighbors, church members and families.
This is such an elemental idea that all three synoptic Gospels include a version of the following story. According to the account in Luke 20:24-30, “A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at the table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.’”
In John 13: 13-18, Jesus gives a practical example of what this means. After the washing of the disciples’ feet, Jesus said to them, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master.”
The apostle Paul magnifies this in his letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he as in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-9).
This servant attitude, made visible in Christ, and made possible in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, is what enables the Christian to live a set-apart life in communion with other believers.
It is this foundation that makes sense of what Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 when he uses the analogy of the human body. All parts of the body are essential, but they have distinct roles. Each of us is called to serve God’s kingdom with our own unique gifts. When we fully comprehend this, the idea of comparing the worth of an “eye” to an “ear” seems ludicrous. It is also a great sin that, left unchecked, can allow pride to wreak havoc among God’s family.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous German theologian, whose willingness to oppose Hitler cost him his life, shared much wisdom on what a Christian life in community looks like. Even writing from prison, Bonhoeffer exhorts, “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them.”
He adds the profound observation that “Nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent from ourselves. We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or don’t do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”
Who is the greatest? Seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? And for the record, back to our green bean harvest operation — the greatest in the sequence of events is the good, good God, in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), and who blesses us with crops to harvest so the people will have food to eat.