Why is it that people always want to be the greatest? I realize that we should always strive to do our best, but that is not what I am referring to. We want to be better than everyone else in whatever we are doing. Even when equality is emphasized it really isn’t equality that we are after – most people seem to want special privileges and at least to feel they are better than others.
The former communist nations are a good example of this. What started out as a push for everyone to be equal very quickly turned into equality for the masses but privileges for the elite. The modern state of Israel was built on the kibbutz. These were plentiful in the early days of the new state where all lived in a collective community, with each contributing what they earned so that all had an equal share. As more people began earning greater wages they left the kibbutz in order to live on their own and keep the benefits of their own labour.
We even see this idea among the disciples of Jesus. It was in the upper room that the apostles began to argue over who was the greatest among them.
“A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. So Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called “benefactors.” Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-27 NET).
Can you imagine the scene? Jesus had just taken the bread and wine they were using in their Passover meal and had given them a new significance, representing his body and blood. Jesus told them that one of them at the table would betray him. John’s gospel indicates that he identified, at least to the disciple beside him, that it was Judas Iscariot who would do this.
Perhaps this is what started the argument over who was the greatest – after all, if they were the greatest they couldn’t possibly be the one who would betray their leader. In human organizations, everyone wants to be the greatest and have the rest serve them.
Jesus told them that this would not be the way among those who wanted to be his disciples. The greatest had to become like the one with least experience, the youngest; the leader had to be the one who served. After all, Jesus came to serve.
It would seem that immediately after this Jesus got up and began to wash his followers’ feet, just like a slave would do (recorded in John 13). Can you imagine the reaction this must have caused? They had been arguing over which one was the greatest and Jesus serves them like the least. No wonder there were objections to his doing this – this wasn’t the way it should be! And they realized this!
What about us? Do we want the most important places among our fellow Christians or are we content to do what needs to be done, what many consider to be the lowest tasks? Maybe we should ask ourselves, “which would Jesus do?” To ask the question is to answer it.
May we seek to be the one who serves and not strive for self-importance.
Readings for next week:
5 March – Luke 19:28-48
6 March – Luke 20:1-18
7 March – Luke 20:19-47
8 March – Luke 21
9 March – Luke 22:1-34