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.Mark 9:35
Our Lord evidently knew what these disciples had been talking about. So when they get into the house at Capernaum, He asks them,
What were you discussing on the way?--a simple, normal question--but He is met by embarrassed silence because they had been discussing who was the greatest among them. Somehow that did not sound right in the presence of Jesus. It would be wonderful if we always had this awareness that what we say and think is being done in His presence. It would make us feel differently about many things.
We are not told how this argument came about. I suspect that it was occasioned by the events of the transfiguration. James, Peter, and John had been chosen to go up on the mountain with the Lord and to observe this marvelous sight. Jesus had strictly charged them to tell no one what they had seen. I believe they kept this charge. But it is quite possible to keep a secret in such a way as to make everybody agog to find out more. When they came back, the others probably asked,
What happened up there? And they said,
Oh, we're not permitted to say. One of these days perhaps we might be able to tell you, but you ordinary disciples are excluded from this for now. And then, of course, the argument readily arose as to who was the greatest.
To answer this, Jesus gave them a marvelously revealing statement. He told them the truth about ambition. Notice He did not rebuke them for wanting to be greatest. Never does He take them to task because of their desire. God has somehow built into every human heart the desire to succeed at whatever we do. He did not rebuke them, for this is part of our humanity--to want to succeed. What He did do was to tell them the true way to greatness.
It is not by seeking to be first, He said.
It is by a willingness to be last. It is not by getting people to serve you; it is by becoming a servant of all.
There are two kinds of ambition. There is the ambition to be approved and applauded by people, and the ambition to be approved and applauded by God. There are those who want to gain fame and attention and influence and power. The measurement of the ambition to be great before people is always
How many serve me? How much power do I exercise over others? How wide is the extent of my influence? Who of us has not suffered many times from this desire to be known, to be admired, to be considered great?
But Jesus points out that true greatness is never found there. The measure of true greatness is
How many do I serve? How many can I help? This is the mark of greatness in the eyes of God. Christianity is a radical faith! It is exactly the opposite of the natural instincts of the heart. Our natural inclinations will get us deeper and deeper into trouble. Though we may achieve a form of greatness in the eyes of people, it will turn into cobwebs and ashes in our hands.
Teach me the meaning of these words in the depths of my heart. Help me to strive for that greatness that will shine throughout eternity.
What does Jesus teach as a radically different criterion for greatness and power? Do our lives reflect a growing understanding and application of His teaching & example?