The desire to make a name – Part 1: Discipleship
“One day I’m going to do something that will change the whole system, and everyone will know my name and remember”.
Those are the words Andreas Lubitz, who set the plane he was flying last week on a downward trajectory on a collision course in the French Alps, reportedly spoke to a former girlfriend last year. The statement is chilling when interpreted as the statement of a narcissistic individual who would commit mass murder in protest against his working conditions and to ensure his name would enter the history books. Yet the same words could also be said by a person who intends to make a positive difference in the world and be remembered for it – something that most people would regard as a noble ambition. Ambition is complex. Without it we might make no progress and attain no goals, but with it we seem to tread on dangerous ground. Failure to achieve our perceived potential, along with feelings that others (perhaps even those less able than ourselves) are advancing above us, can generate powerful emotions that can become destructive of self and others.
Today is Palm Sunday, when tradition remembers the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem riding on a donkey. As He rode into that ancient city a huge crowd gathered, spreading their cloaks and branches cut from the trees on the road ahead of Him. They shouted out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Those who formed the crowd were mainly from Galilee and other outlying regions and the commotion caused a stir in Jerusalem so that the city’s residents asked, “Who is this?” Here was the moment of greatest adulation for Jesus. He has taken the hearts of the rural people, now He is poised to take Jerusalem itself. Will He make a name for Himself? Will He seize power?
Of course we know the answer. Jesus has set His own downward trajectory – one that started when He left His Father’s side to be born into the world. His downwards journey is described majestically in Philippians 2:6-9: equality with God – emptying of self – the nature of a servant – human likeness – humbling himself – obedience to death – even on a cross. This descent, however, is not driven by a desire for self-destruction – He takes this path because there is no other way and in obedience to His Father (Matthew 26:42) – still less by any thought of destroying others in the process – He willingly sacrifices Himself in order to deliver us. This is the heart of the Christian gospel: the self-sacrificing Saviour who pays the greatest price to deliver us from self, sin, death and hell.
Matthew records two occasions when this Jesus calls to us. Together they provide an answer to our restless ambition. Firstly, in Matthew 11:28-30, He says:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Here is the antidote to the weariness of labouring for our own advancement, of trying to establish our own significance. Yet Jesus is not simply saying that He will give rest to those who trust in Him – He is calling us to exchange the yoke of our own driven-ness for His yoke. We cannot be free as human beings to be masters of our own destiny – that is no freedom at all, for we find ourselves enslaved to sin and subject to a burden of self-trust that we cannot sustain. The only solution is to receive Jesus as our Lord and let Him guide us. When we do so, we find that the yoke is easy, for He is a gentle Master. The second call is in Matthew 16:24-27:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
Here the challenge is even more stark. To try and save our lives and gain the world is the path to loss and destruction. Only Jesus has the power to guard your soul and only His assessment of your life when He comes in glory really counts. The call is to live for eternity, to give up on self-preservation and to die to self for Jesus’ cause.
Over the next three days I will continue to explore some biblical insights into the problem of human ambition and our Christian response.