Jesus’ definition of greatness is being a servant

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Tony Campolo is someone who consistently impresses me with his ability to see lessons in life which others typically miss. He is a gifted, amazingly versatile, man. Campolo is a sociologist by training, but has also served as a pastor, author, public speaker and even a spiritual advisor to former President Bill Clinton.

Despite his impressive accomplishments, Campolo has neither lost his down-to-earth attitude nor fallen into the trap of taking himself too seriously. The following story illustrates not only his humility but also his kindness.

Campolo wrote, “I’m 50 years old, but when you’re Italian and your mother calls and tells you to do something, you do it.” His mother told him, “Tony, Mrs. Kilpatrick died and you need to go to her funeral.”

Mrs. Kilpatrick was a neighbor while Campolo was growing up in Philadelphia. So, when his mother said he needed to attend the funeral there was no hesitation. He did as his mother asked and went to the mortuary the day of her memorial service. That day he was running late. He rushed into the service, sat down then realized he and the woman sitting in front of him were the only ones there.

A quick glance at the casket confirmed his suspicion, the man lying there was certainly not Mrs. Kilpatrick. He was about to leave to find the correct service when the dead man’s wife touched his hand and asked, “Did you know him?”

Campolo could not bring himself to directly answer the woman’s question and in that moment knew he had to stay. The thought of the woman being alone at her husband’s funeral was too much to bear. He not only stayed for the funeral but rode with the grieving widow to the graveside and stood beside her as she said her final goodbye.

When the committal service was over Campolo finally told Mrs. King, “I want to be your friend, but I didn’t know your husband.” The grieving woman gripped his hand tightly and slowly said, “That doesn’t matter. You’ll never know what your being here has meant to me.”

Campolo was a hero that day. He proved his heroism by his humanity and compassion for a grieving woman whom he had never met. Jesus challenges each of us to live the same way. I do not mean attending a stranger’s funeral but recognizing and serving hurting people in their hour of need. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be great must be a servant.” (Matthew 20:26, The Message)

According to Jesus great leaders serve those who need their help, they neither boast about their position nor expect others to focus on their accomplishments. Greatness is revealed in our willingness to serve others, not in our expectation that others serve us. My friend David Shaw shared this quote from a fellow Lion’s Club member which perfectly summarizes Jesus’ point, “If serving is beneath you, leadership is beyond you.”

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