Summary: True greatness does not come from what you get but from what you give.
Becoming Great in God’s Eyes
Rev. Brian Bill
When I woke up on Wednesday I smelled what I thought was the scent of teriyaki coming from the kitchen. Since it was my birthday I figured Beth was doing some early preparation for a special supper. But as I reached for my first cup of Folger’s, I realized that the chicken was in the oven and the dining room table was set. Beth told me that since none of the girls would be home that evening we were going to have our dinner menu for breakfast!
It was fantastic – baked teriyaki chicken, a bed of brown rice, roasted garlic asparagus tips, and broccoli salad with dried cranberries. When we finished with the breakfast banquet, she then brought out my favorite birthday dessert – confetti angel food cake (It has to be confetti; one year that didn’t happen and I pouted all day) and Cool Whip frosting with Heath Bar pieces sprinkled on top!
Because the day was all turned around, for supper that night Beth and I each had a steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat.
We learned last week that Jesus turned the predictable Passover supper upside down. This became a meal to remember when He declared that the bread symbolized His body and the cup represented the new covenant in His blood. The celebration of communion helps us remember what we tend to forget.
The Slippery Slope of Selfishness
I’m sure this shook up the disciples and then Jesus said something after supper that really unsettled them. Immediately after taking the cup, Jesus declared in Luke 22:21-22: “But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” In the East, there is nothing much worse than eating someone’s bread while secretly planning to betray him.
According to Mark 14:19, the disciples were really saddened by this “…and one by one they said to him, ‘Surely not I?’” I think they were just being honest about their own hearts when they asked, “Is it me?” Each disciple probably wondered if he was capable of betraying the Lord. After all, they were weak and had doubts…just like we do.
But then they went from “Is it me?” to “It must be you!” Look at Luke 22:23: “They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.” I think it’s probably Thaddeus who always looks so withdrawn or maybe Andrew who just seems so anxious. Come to think of it, Simon looks pretty slippery and Matthew is always so mouthy. It certainly couldn’t be Judas because he does such a good job keeping track of our money.
Their discussion deteriorates even more. Luke 22:24 reveals what happened when they moved from an honest assessment of themselves to attacking one other. The slope is slippery because now in this next step they are filled with pride: “Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.” Are you kidding me? Each of them think that they’re “all that.” Their individual opinions matter more than anything else. Some of us end up here more often than we care to admit when we think our views are more important than anyone else’s. We tend to think our preferences are morally right while everyone else is just plain wrong.
We could put the progression like this…
• Contrition. Is it me?
• Comparison. It must be you.
• Competition. I’m better than you!
The word for “dispute” means “to be fond of strife” or to have “an eagerness to contend.” It literally means “lovers of strife” as an explosion of ambition and pride filled the room. They were quick to quarrel, much like Proverbs 26:21: “As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” Do you know people who love to argue and disagree, who live to light others up, just for the sake of doing so?
This is really sad when we remember the context. Jesus had just talked to them about the giving of His body and the pouring out of His blood for them and here they are arguing about who’s the greatest.
Unfortunately this wasn’t the first time the disciples disputed among themselves about who was the greatest. This was a common competition among them.
In Matthew 20:20-28, we read what happened when a mom came to Jesus and asked for preferential treatment for her two sons. When the other ten disciples heard about this, “they were indignant with the two brothers [because they wanted the top spots]. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”