A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
It’s hard to believe that at the moment when the King was presenting them with the symbols by which they were to remember his sacrifice, their thoughts were distracted by the issue of which of them was considered to be greatest. Then again, when I think about the condition of my own heart and the conflicting motivations it harbours, perhaps it isn’t that hard to believe!
The Lord used it as a teachable moment. It was crucial that they understood that the core principles of his kingdom were very different from those of the kingdoms and governments of their day.
The basic concept of true greatness lay in “lording it over” others: that is, emperors, kings and people in positions of authority dominating others, relishing the sense of being ‘great’ and considering themselves to be magnanimous benefactors to the fortunate recipients of their favour. It is notto be like that in God’s kingdom.
Most of us know what it is like to be served at table in a restaurant. That lovely feeling of comfort and relaxation, beautiful food and drink on our mere say so, no preparation and no dishes to do. We don’t go to restaurants to serve but to be served! So just imagine yourself relaxing at table, issuing requests, enjoying the feeling of being important, when you suddenly focus long enough on the server to realise that it is none other than Jesus.
“I am among you as one who serves,” Jesus says. Our King serves. “The greatest among you should be like the youngest, the one who rules like the one who serves.”
Now imagine what it would be like if this week, in your church, everyone adopted this servant mindset of Christ. (See Philippians 2:1-11 for a detailed description of the ‘mind of Christ’.)
Christ’s kingdom challenges all cultures. Yet I have discovered from my travels to different continents and countries that what we Christians tend to do is to adopt our culture’s concept of greatness into the values, behaviour and structure of our Christian churches.
Christ’s kingdom challenges all cultures – and, let me add, especially my own! We all have our blind spots, where we unthinkingly assume that Jesus would simply agree with our concepts of greatness, our systems of government, our patterns of leadership. But these concepts generally have been shaped by our history and culture, not by Christ. We, like the disciples, may need help to discern where and how Christ’s ‘not like’ applies.
The disciples had much to learn and a long way to go. Yet the Lord recognised that despite their misunderstandings, mistakes and weaknesses they had stuck by him. One day they would be rewarded with close, personal fellowship with Christ and participation with him in his eternal kingdom.
No doubt we also have much to learn and a long way to go. We have our misunderstandings and weaknesses. We also make mistakes. Our motives are often mixed. We treat one another poorly. It is an encouragement to know that the Lord is able to recognise what is good in all this mess. He has committed to our training and development, so that we more and more reflect the values of his kingdom. And this growth will be eternally worthwhile.