Summary: Are you salted? Has God’s salt penetrated into your fiber so that you are distinguished from your former life and from the people of the world?
Have you ever been part of a conversation (or more likely on the receiving end of a monologue) that went something like this.
Did you hear the news about the robbery downtown? They caught the guy and the prosecutor says he is going to bring him to trial quickly. Speaking of trial, my back sure is putting me through one. I really have trouble lifting groceries out of the trunk of the car. Have you seen the new car Frank bought? I don’t know if I would spend that kind of money. Which reminds me, I couldn’t believe that guy missed such an easy question on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
We think to ourselves, “Where is this conversation going?” What is happening, of course, is that a word or idea triggers the mind to think of something else. There is a pattern, but it is guided more by words and ideas that connect to new thoughts rather than a single idea.
That is what’s happening in the verses we are looking at. Verses 30-32 is a conversation of its own, which takes place somewhere in Galilee. Verses 33-50 form another conversation back in Capernaum. These conversations lead us into what seems a number of different paths, but then we will find that they lead us eventually to one destination.
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples.
The context for these passages is Jesus teaching his disciples. What about? The same thing he was teaching in 8:31-9:1: what it means for him to be the Messiah and what it means for them to be his disciples. That passage started with the phrase he then began to teach them. This becomes Jesus’ focus after the disciples confess that Jesus is the Messiah. Before, Jesus wanted to be alone to get away from the crowds; now he wants to be alone with them in order to teach them.
Just as in chapter 8 he explained what the Messiah must do, Jesus does so again:
He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” What Jesus is explaining is the gospel. The gospel is the story of how the Messiah would save his people. This is how: he will die (for their sins) and then rise to life.
32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it. Peter has learned his lesson not to argue with Jesus about the subject, so he and the other disciples take the next preferred tactic – keep quiet and hope Jesus drops the subject. They are afraid of the topic for the same reason you and I would be – the man whom they love, and in whom they rest their hopes for ushering in the kingdom of God, talks about dying. This is unsettling to say the least.
We now move to another setting for yet another set of teachings.
33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
They have come back to their unofficial headquarters in Capernaum. They settle in the house, and Jesus says, “So, fellows, you seemed like you were having a pretty heated discussion back down the road. Want to talk about it?”
It is not hard to figure out why they keep quiet this time. Not even Peter cares to comment. This is one awkward moment! “Andrew? John? Anybody? You weren’t so quiet on the road. Speak up.”
Jesus hears the clearing of throats, then a meek quiet voice in the corner: “We were discussing who might be considered…well, I mean…who you might consider… hmm…that is, if something were to happen to you then…well, who’s the greatest.”
“Oh, I see. You want to know how I rank you; who should be considered the leader after me. You want to know how you stand with one another and with me.” 35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (By the way, sitting down is the teaching position for a rabbi. If we were conducting this service in the exact style of a synagogue service in Jesus’ day, I would be sitting in order to preach.)
Here is what Jesus is saying. If you want to be highly regarded by God, you must concentrate on being a good servant to others. He is not presenting a strategy for getting ahead of others: act humble and you will get ahead. He is presenting the value system for the kingdom of God, and service is the key element. This is an important principle to understand. Jesus is not telling us merely to be humble. He is telling us to be good servants. Our humility is to be positive and practical.