Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
Luke 22:24-27 New Living Translation
Even as they sat with Jesus at the Last Supper and Jesus again explained the necessity of His coming death, the disciples still demonstrated that they did not get the point of what the Kingdom of God was about. They had become so indoctrinated by their culture’s ideas about a military campaign lead by a conquering Messiah that they began to argue among themselves about who is ready to be the next leader of the revolution if Jesus does die. Jesus has to again remind them that the call to greatness in the Kingdom of God comes through a heart of service and humility. He had modeled this all His life and he would model it through His death on the cross. He sat among them as one who served and not as one who lords over them in the way that the world’s system of power lived by.
Jesus is calling His followers to live by a different set of values than they see in the earthly kingdoms around them. Since the days of Saul and David, their people had been plagued by a desire to be like every other nation with a mighty king that lead them to military and cultural victory over others. This history had been marked with a constant stream of failures to truly be the people of God, yet they seemed prepared to persist in it even now. Jesus was so convinced that they needed to let go of the world’s idea of power and learn His way to true greatness that He continued to remind them of this often repeated lesson to the very end. His hope was that they would remember what He said as they saw the whole pattern lived out in His death, resurrection, and ascension over the coming weeks. History tells us many did get it later and joined Jesus’s new community of peacemakers on earth. Still, history also shows us that some who have taken on the name of Jesus as their Lord have often given into the temptation pick the sword of power up again in the name of advancing the Kingdom of God.
American Christianity continues to struggle with this temptation today. Many of us (myself included) were raised on ideas such as Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism. These ideas can lead us to believe that whatever strengthens our political and nationalistic agenda is good for the Kingdom of God. To achieve these goals we may not always resort to violence but we often resort to the same political tactics of our culture in order to gain the upper hand and impose our agenda on others around us in the name of “preserving our heritage” or some other similar cause. Jesus calls us to live a different way, though. He calls us to sit among our neighbors as one who serves and seeks the good of others over our personal agendas. It is there that we find the place of true influence and greatness. It is on this level that we can bring about real positive change in our world.
Jesus, help us to resist the temptation to pick up the sword of power in our efforts to build Your kingdom. We want to be people who know how to sit among our neighbors as those who serve.