It’s nice to feel like an insider. Each of us wants to belong, to feel like we are part of something we value. We want to have insider info, unique access or special privileges. This desire is not a bad thing. In fact, in the context of a team, I want people to feel like they have access and opportunity simply because they are on the team.
The desire to be “in” on whatever is happening is just part of our human nature. Early in grade school, it might look like that desire to be at a specific lunch table. In high school perhaps it was that hope of being able to gain and wear the letterman jacket. Many college students focus on getting into their choice fraternity or sorority. As an adult, it might have to do with the location of your office or the meetings you get to participate in.
We all want the benefits of being an insider. The desire is not bad, but it has to be reigned in. Jesus knew this desire was within each of us. In fact, He saw it in action with a couple of his very own insiders. The gospel writer Matthew gives us a glimpse into a moment that all of us could fall into. It is a moment when a couple of insiders try to use their position and access as a tool for their own benefit.
To give you a picture of the scene, Jesus and his disciples are out making waves. Jesus is performing miracles, crowds gather in most places He goes. At some point during all this activity James and John, two of the insiders, decide to make a big ask of Jesus. (Well really they get their mom to make the ask for them. I guess helicopter parenting has been around a long time.) They ask to sit on Jesus’ right and left in his Kingdom to come. They are asking for places of honor. They are leveraging their access for their own benefit.
Jesus gives them some wise coaching in the moment. And I think the coaching is extremely helpful to use today. Matthew recounts the coaching moment:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:25-28)
In other words, Jesus is saying, “hey – it would be easy to use your spot as an insider to lift yourself up, but you should use it to lift others up.” Jesus is encouraging them to leverage their role as insiders as a way to keep them humble.
Jesus knew how important humility would be for his disciples. For the disciples, and for each of us, humility is more than just a mindset – it is a tool to combat the subtle draw of entitlement.
Entitlement is the belief that because of my position there are now things which I deserve. It is the mindset that there are things due to me because of my role. Each of us who are insiders, who belong as part of a team or a group, must pay attention to the subtle pull towards entitlement.
Like the flu, entitlement can spread among a group of people fairly quickly. Perhaps that is why Jesus not only encouraged his disciples towards humility but became the perfect model of it. The One who was entitled to more than we could ever imagine chose to take a humble position. He made much of others instead of making much of himself. He invites us to do the same.
How do you lean into humility and avoid the temptation of an entitled heart?
- You take the out of the way parking spot and leave the best for someone else.
- You free up the best seats and make them available for someone new.
- You express gratitude for what you have, instead of focusing on what you lack.
- You look for ways to use your insider position to benefit others.
- Instead of asking, “what do I deserve,” you consider, “how else can I serve?”