Theme of the Week: Redefining Greatness
Bible Verse: “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12 ESV
Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-20
In the classic novel Middlemarch, author George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans) compares her central character, Dorothea Brooke, to Saint Teresa of Avila, a Catholic mystic who founded seventeen convents across Europe and wrote a widely read spiritual autobiography.
Eliot observes that Teresa became a famous saint because she was born into a wealthy, influential family at a time when Europe was ripe for her deep spiritual wisdom. Then Eliot reflects on the many “Teresas” that have been born who found for themselves “no epic life,” nor are remembered for “some long-recognizable deed.”1
Dorothea Brook is such a woman. She is beautiful and well born but avoids displaying her wealth. Instead, she envisions redesigning dilapidated cottages for her uncle’s impoverished tenants. But because of the way her life turns, her plans fail to be realized. Instead of marrying a wealthy landowner and enjoying a comfortable life of privilege, as she is expected to do, she ends up wedding an older, sickly clergyman, Edward Casaubon. She hopes to share in his intellectual life and ministry, but Casaubon proves to be cold, rigid, and narrow-minded, and her marriage is unhappy. He ends up dying within two years of their wedding.
Dorothea eventually goes on to marry her late husband’s cousin, who has no property and comes from a disgraced family line. People around her insist that she cannot be a “good woman” because her marriage is socially unacceptable. Despite her critics, Dorothea matures and grows magnanimous, always giving people the benefit of the doubt. She brings out the best in people. Self-forgetful, she always thinks of others first and is exceedingly generous with her money. Dorothea’s accomplishments “were not widely visible,” for “Her full nature . . . spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth . . . But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” 2
Likewise, we may not have long-recognizable deeds or be buried in tombs that are visited by many, but we too can live the quiet, hidden life of an everyday saint, knowing such a life is not hidden from God.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identifies truly blessed persons as those who recognize their essential poverty, which is their utter dependence on God (Matthew 5:3). He further describes truly blessed persons as those who hunger and thirst after righteousness—as ones who long to live in right relationship with God and people (Matthew 5:6).
Recognizing our need for God and yearning to live well with God and people will likely be overlooked by others, but these desires are applauded by our Maker and will be rewarded greatly in his kingdom (Matthew 5:12). Those who have a strong Striving Adam achievement orientation and a desire to be recognized for their accomplishments will be liberated by Jesus’ definition of greatness.
Recognizing our need for God and yearning to live well with God and people will likely be overlooked by others, but these desires are applauded by our Maker and will be rewarded greatly in his kingdom.
Taken from Survival Guide for the Soul by Ken Shigematsu, Copyright © 2018 by Ken Shigematsu. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
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