30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.
The Greatest in the Kingdom
33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”
36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”
38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”
39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. 42 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’ 49 For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”
This passage is one I hope you will sit with today because it is so familiar, so easily overlooked, and so radical. The argument over who is the greatest in the kingdom has been had many, many times since then by probably most of the people who have ever served or led in any way in the Christian church. Comparing ourselves to others, climbing the ladder of success, these are basic to our fallen, human nature. Since Cain and Abel, we have compared ourselves to our brothers and sisters.
But Jesus wants none of it. They tried to have this discussion (and how could that have gone other than poorly?) quietly without him knowing, but Jesus went out of his way to deal with it, to make clear that his kingdom doesn’t have room for jockeying for position, for power plays, for leaders who seek to gain honor and benefit for leading. We have made room for such things, we have followed the disciples’ poor example here far more often than we have heeded Jesus’ radical correction of it. Power and authority as the world knows it and practices it has been condemned by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we practice the standard, ‘if you’re not with me, you’re against me,’ we get it exactly wrong. Jesus says, “if you’re not against me, you are for me.” Think about how radically different that is.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.