They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. [Mark 9:33-34]
Jesus and His disciples walked a lot. We can imagine the stories, laughter, arguments, and silent pondering as His motley crew worked their way around the countryside. This particular journey was marked by a question that made it’s way into Holy Scripture.
“What were you guys arguing about back there?”
Motivations brought to light through a simple, disarmingly penetrating question. This is Jesus style.
When people openly attack, or criticize us, our natural defense mechanisms kick into place. We put up walls, we guard, and often lash back. Unlike direct statements, questions have a powerful way sneaking around our defenses, and allowing us to consider alternative truths. The right question can stick with us for days as we chew on the heart of the issue.
Jesus question arrested the disciples. Silence. Crickets.
The funny thing is that Jesus knew the answer already. He knows the hearts of men, he knew the hearts of the religious before they asked their questions & there’s nothing to suggest He was oblivious to their prideful speculations.
“Which one of us is most awesome?”
Surely they were anticipating an earthly Kingdom, and vying for positions at the top of the food chain. Their concepts of authority, of recognition, of power, respect, all earthly in nature. God’s new Kingdom was being revealed before their eyes, they hadn’t quite gotten it yet.
I love that Jesus doesn’t light into them, rebuke and directly shame. You wouldn’t blame Him for something like, “You guys are so selfish, you seek your own, you love yourselves, how can I work with this? I’m outta here – Earth to Father, beam me up.”
What y’all talking about back there?
Ouch. Silence. Conviction.
“Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
I don’t think Jesus is directing a natural, good desire to be ‘first’. I think He’s striking at the very desire in the first place.
Think about it. Is there such a virtue as trying to be the BEST servant?
Many a church leader will encourage folks to serve, to stack chairs, to clean toilets and not seek the limelight because in the economy of the Kingdom, the less recognition the higher the pay grade. Folks can end up, as a result, striving to be the best chair stacker, or recognized as the most spiritual servant. The end result may be more folks ‘serving’ the danger is still pride.
We’re not commanded to compete, we’re commanded to love.
Trying to be the best, even in something as virtuous as serving someone or thing, defeats the goal of love. Love is not striving for attention, love is free from ‘needing’ a response or recognition.
Love is the end, it’s a verb culminating in itself.
I’ve been thinking about what Jesus is really saying here. Yes, we can certainly see the Kingdom is upside down from this world, that serving is more valuable than being served.
However, if our motivation is to be the best, or even better than anyone at anything, we’ve missed the Kingdom motivation of love. This goes for being the ‘best church’ or ‘best ministry.’
Love does not seek it’s own.
As we love God, and serve one another, let it end with that. There’s nothing greater than being like Christ who gave Himself up for us.
If you are determined to be great, go ahead and wash the feet of your brother or sister, silently serve behind the scenes without recognition. Just remember, if you are desiring greatness, you are already in fact last!
Jesus came not to be served but to serve. As love, He has no rivals. Let us love like Christ, and spend our energies on knowing Him more intimately, and sharing Him more effectively – together.