”A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. 25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. 26 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. 27 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. 28 You are those who have stood by me in my trials. 29 And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” Luke 22.24-30
Muhammad Ali is considered one of the best boxers of all times. He was known for his creative sayings like “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.” Not only did the world consider him an incredible boxer, he did so himself and was known for saying things like, “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” (For more see 30 Quotes on Muhammad Ali.)
In boxing, or sports in general, it’s perfectly acceptable to brag on yourself, to talk about your greatness and downplay the skills of your opponents. This kind of trash talk is good for public relations, helps play mind tricks on your opponents, and is great for ratings. Take Dion Sanders, the Dallas Cowboy great, who gave himself the nickname “Primetime” because of how he would put on a show when on television. He sold himself, branded his name and made millions from it.
But when it comes to discipleship it’s a different story. There’s a difference between the disciple and the discipler, between the teacher and student, between the master and the servant. That’s why what happens at the table at the Last Supper is actually incredibly shocking. We usually read it as if it’s a run of the mill occurrence, but I think it should be put in all bold caps so we take notice of this out of the ordinary argument.
What’s happening? The disciples are actually arguing, in front of Jesus, who is going to be “considered the greatest.” What the heck?! Here we have twelve no-body blue collar, uneducated workers, debating in front of God himself, who is going to be “god” in their own minds. Jesus has just shared the mystery surrounding his bodily suffering, death and resurrection, and now we find them focused solely on numero uno. They have, in a matter of minutes, turned their focus from Christ to themselves.
The disciples have value in God’s eyes, but they should not be putting themselves forward, puffing out their chests or playing a bragging match about whose the best. The best is before them. It’s Jesus. He’s the guy, the man, the One, the Lord and Master of Creation. He is God’s spoken “word” in human form. And yet, they are completely ignorant of his divinity which is evidenced in their argument of who is the greatest.
How many times have we fallen into this trap of the devil and of our own self-centeredness? We want the titles, the positions, the pay, the prestige of importance. Even when doing “God’s work,” we somehow think we deserve recognition for serving the King. But servants can not demand position, this is why they are servants. There is only one Master, and he was reclining at the table with the disciples in the upper room.
I confess that I am guilty of this sin. I often try to jockey for a greater influence, a greater position, a higher seat at the table. But instead of demanding a seat at the table, I should just be happy to be in the room, or at the door looking in.
The good news is that Jesus is loving and patient with us. He brings us the value that we can and should not bestow upon ourselves. Our importance comes not from what we think about ourselves but from who God says we are. We can no more elevate ourselves in God’s Kingdom then Jesus could become less than God.
The lesson in this is to learn to humble ourselves and as James say — let God lift us up. I must remember how great God is and that he deserves all our glory, honor and praise. Any affirmation I receive must come from him and not from the insecure and fragile world in which I live. The disciples missed this but would realize their mistake later. Let’s press on and move not toward our own greatness but the greatness of our God and King.
”O Lord God, you are good. Thank you for loving me and for allowing me to be a keeper of the door at the house of the Lord! Thank you for your power and love to heal, to reconcile and to love. Thank you for allowing me to be your hands and feet and for lifting me up when I can and should not elevate my self. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen