24 And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ 26 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. 27 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.
28 “You are those who have stood by Me in My trials; 29 and just as My Father has granted Me a kingdom, I grant you 30 that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
We’re a fickle lot. God never changes. We change nearly constantly some days.
Case in point, the disciples who were so filled with humility that they began to search their own hearts and question themselves to see if they were the ones who could betray Jesus, are now back to arguing one of their favorite questions: Who was going to be second-in-command in Jesus’ Kingdom.
They expected kingdoms, power, money, status. All of the trappings the come with authority in the earthly kingdoms. It’s good to be the king.
These guys honestly believed despite what Jesus had been telling them that in the next few days, months, or possibly years, Jesus would be declared king of the Jews, raise up an army, and conquer the world. And nobody wanted to be subordinate to his fellow disciples when that happened. So you can imagine that as dinner is winding down, the boys start getting into a boasting match. Maybe Peter starts off with “He said, ‘On this rock’ (pointing to himself) I will build My church…’ I’m the leader. “ And James counters with, “You know how many lepers and how many demons I cast out on my last missionary trip? More than you, big guy. I’m the leader…” Maybe Judas is off to the side thinking, He’s not going to conquer anything. He’s just a crazy rabbi who would spend the rest of His days penniless healing lepers if He hadn’t made the priests angry enough to kill Him. But the rest chime in with their own boasts and arguments about why they should lead.
In other words, it’s pretty much like any church board meeting, right?
Mankind doesn’t change. We still like to build our power bases and hold authority over each other. Even in the church. Sometimes I feel like especially in the church. Then I open a newspaper and look at the Politics section and I correct myself. We’re not worse, we’re just as bad. Human nature and our culture.
Our culture says that those with power should use it for their own benefit. Whether you earned power or inherited it, you’re supposed to enjoy it. It’s yours. As long as you’re not breaking the law (and sometimes even if you are) the expectation is that it’s all yours and you should lord over others who weren’t as successful in business or weren’t born into money or didn’t have the right connections to help them rise to power. The expectation is that you’re better than everyone else and your actions should reinforce that expectation.
Jesus points this out in His question to them. Who’s greater according to your understanding? The master or the slave? Or in our modern context, who’s greater? The guy sitting down to eat his expensive dinner at the best restaurant in town wearing his best suit, or the waiter bringing it to him who probably couldn’t afford a cup of water at the restaurant in which he works?
It’s the rich guy, of course. It’s the guy who’s being served. That’s what everyone would say.
Jesus points out that He has done nothing but serve the people since He began His ministry. And He is the master.
Power in the kingdom of God isn’t about what you can do for yourself. Power in the Kingdom of God is measured in terms of how much you do for others. It’s not about money, it’s about caring for the sick. It’s not about authority, it’s about giving comfort to the hurting. It’s not about fine clothes, it’s about giving clothes to the poor. It’s not about dining on fine foods. It’s about giving food to the hungry, the little ones who go to sleep with an empty stomach. It’s not about lording over others, it’s about loving them completely as if they were your own brother or sister.
Jesus ends with a promise that they would indeed receive honor for their lives of service. Those that remained faithful would always be welcome at Christ’s table. And because they remained faithful and did their part to build the church here on Earth, they would be given authority over the twelve tribes of Israel. Is this literal? Are the twelve tribes of Israel symbolic of the sum of all God’s family? I don’t know. Presumably, this will happen after the return of Christ and the end of the age, so my thoughts are that being the first Christians from whose service to Christ all others would come, they would have a special place of honor among us.
I also think that Christ’s statement here is a barb or an appeal towards Judas. Judas had lost his faith in Christ. He tired of living on the road serving others. Christ’s statement was a promise that if Judas stayed with the Lord, Judas would receive more than he could hope for.
But we know how the story ends already for Judas.
Just as we know how the story ends for Peter, who we’ll look at on Monday.