32. Master or Servant?
And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)
First came the volley of questions from each of the disciples: Surely not I, Lord? Now I know we don’t have the entire conversation of the Last Supper recorded, even across the four Gospels. But why didn’t anyone come to Jesus’ aid? Why didn’t Peter, or one of the Sons of Thunder, cry out and say: “Lord, who is it? Let us kill the betrayer now”? Obviously this could not happen, since Judas still had a role to play. But one of the disciples could have at least asked. They did not. They were too worried about their own skin rather than their Teacher and Lord. And I suppose we would have done the same.
That brings us to the next question, which also is driven by self-interest: which one of them was regarded to be greatest? Here’s Jesus pouring out His life before them and all they can talk about is who will be the greatest?
I’m not sure how the transition from betrayer to greatest happened (I’m not sure it even was a transition). I suppose once they had assured themselves that were not the betrayer, they went on to more “important” things. How often do we move on to other things before wrestling with the things God has laid upon hearts. It’s Spiritual ADD. We may never develop a deep relationship with the LORD because we refuse to tarry on matters which may be uncomfortable or difficult. OK, I’ve dealt with that; now let’s get on to something that really matters: who’s the greatest?
Fortunately, our Dear Lord chooses to deal with the matter that was “on the table”. Apparently the disciples were looking outside of the One True Source and Example to find what it meant to be the greatest. They were looking to the kings of the Gentiles and their local rulers.
From their own history, they should have at least looked to David, and some of his godly descendants. But power is an intoxicating thing and there are few of us indeed who would reject the opportunity to lord it over and have authority over others. So who were their examples? Caesar? Pilate? Herod? Pitiful. And they find it necessary to be named “Benefactors” (literally do-gooders). Nice euphemism.
But Jesus provides a counter-cultural model: the greatest must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. Another lesson in humility—something that Jesus taught all the way to the cross.
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come forth from God and was going back to God, got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself. Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded. (John 13:3-5)
Whereas Jesus taught a lesson on humility on the very eve of His crucifixion, I would have thought he’d have slapped the disciples on the back of the head for missing the point. Instead He chooses to address the matter. Again He uses Himself as the archetype: For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
It’s a matter of magnitude. Here we are arguing about who is the greatest among twelve blue collar workers, from a backwater city, in an obscure country, on an infinitesimal planet, on the edge of a ordinary galaxy, in front of The One Who made all this stuff. Three words: humility, humility, humility.
Still Jesus chooses to let them know that they would be receiving mega upgrade: You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. Take note: it is not their hard work, nor their position in life that awards them such roles; but rather it is Who they stood by and remained faithful. What does David say in Psalm 84:10. For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand outside. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. Here the cliche really does work: It’s Who you know.
So, the disciples get thrones and they do receive a significant place in Heaven; but are their thrones any comparison to the Son’s throne? Are they anything like The One Who sits upon the throne, The One Who sits at the right hand of the Father? The answer is obviously not. But still He served. Why shouldn’t we?