A dispute also arose among them, (Jesus’ disciples) as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he (Jesus) said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, 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 (ESV)
Even today we are conditioned to see those in authority- the ones who make decisions and rule from the safe distance of their ivory towers as being “greater” than the people who do the physical work that makes the world function. Jesus turns that idea on its head.
The leader is one who serves. Sometimes a leader serves in a very public capacity, but often a leader serves in ways that aren’t glamorous or even readily visible.
“And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is cursed by God. You shall not defile your land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 (ESV)
Jesus became what we once were- condemned to death. He took our punishment. He came down to earth to live among us, to be one of us, and ultimately to be cursed by God and hung on a tree.
Jesus, in whom all things were made, became the Suffering Servant, and lifted the curse of death for us, because we are not able to redeem ourselves.
Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (ESV)
The idea of comparing ourselves to other people to determine who is “the greatest” is rather silly. While competition is human nature, Jesus has done it all for us. We are free to serve our neighbors through our vocations- the good work that God created for us to do.
In Christ we all have value, because He redeemed us. The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22.)
So what does this say for the humility of humanity? It is a beautiful thing and pleasing to God when we do our daily work, when we regard others as better than ourselves, and when we aren’t afraid to come down from our ivory towers and get dirty. We don’t earn brownie points or anything like that, it’s just that we are doing what God created us to do.
Jesus is the ultimate Servant. He is our King and our Redeemer. We do fall into the temptation of categorizing ourselves and others based upon what we do (or what “they don’t do”) and we forget that Jesus has done it all for us. There is nothing to earn and nothing to deserve. There is no reason to compare and compete.
Lord, help us to follow you by serving others, and not concerning ourselves with “who is the greatest,” because we know You are. Help us to live life in a way that brings glory to You as we live out our vocations and serve with joy.