They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mk 9:33-35.
I was interviewing a new patient. He had completed surgery and needed follow up treatment for his cancer. Another patient of mine had recommended me to him. On his last day in the hospital with the surgeon, the surgeon had told him that he needed an oncologist and that he (the surgeon) had a couple he would recommend. The patient told the surgeon that he wanted me as his doctor. “I’ve never heard of him,” the surgeon responded.
This was not a problem for my patient, but I found myself spending the next five minutes defending why such a surgeon would not have heard of such a great doctor as I.
We are such difficult creatures for our God to work with, particularly as doctors. There lies within most of us such a strong desire to be known and respected. That desire is part of what makes us great achievers, but it certainly can get in the way of God’s work through our lives. When Jesus was turning toward the Cross He warned His disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” What is He saying about my desire to be well known and respected?
Barclay in his commentaries describes denying oneself as, “Let him say ‘no’ to himself.” Many people through the ages, like Mohandas Gandhi, have followed that rule and accomplished great things for other people, but I don’t think this is all that Christ meant with these words. Beyond the “no” to ourselves, there must be a “yes” to someone else. Christians say “no” to themselves in order to say “yes” to Jesus.
I like better the way Bonheoffer describes self denial as “to no longer be aware of oneself.” I was clearly aware of myself when that surgeon spoke. The more I push myself forward, even in my own mind, the more I am denying Christ’s presence in my life. The apostle Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”(Gal 2:20) Thomas a’ Kempis, in The Imitation of Christ, wrote, “If you would learn and know that which is truly useful, love to be unknown and to be held in no estimation.” Is this a word for doctors too?
If these words of Paul and Jesus and Bonheoffer and Barclay and that fifteenth century monk are true, how do I get from here to there? How do I continue to be a great achiever and deny myself?
1. The first thing I need to do is to focus more on Jesus. He is alive in me and wants to show Himself through me without the distortion of my ego.
2. Secondly, there is the work of surrender. “I surrender my respect and recognition to You, my Lord. Let me steal none of Your glory.”
3. And then there is the deliberate hard work to serve my patients, colleagues, families, bosses and friends with the love of Christ, always pointing to Him and away from myself.
As John the Baptist put it, when we grow in our love for Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.” I must trust God to do great things with my life, letting Him define what greatness is, even as I let my own desire for and awareness of any personal greatness diminishes.
Please keep turning the sandpaper of life on my pride and rough it away until You shine through clearly. Amen