Summary: Disciples bicker over which of them is the greatest.
17. Who is Jesus?
December 12th, 2010
Greatness in the Kingdom of God
Being in the presence of greatness naturally leads to a desire for greatness. When we see someone who is great at something often we are inspired to want to be great ourselves. Honestly that desire can lead us to doing great things. The problem is often how we define greatness. After coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus and His disciples are met by a crowd. Jesus heals some people and does a little teaching before they make their way back to Capernaum. As they are heading back the disciples start arguing over which of them will be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. This is the first of three times they will have this debate.
This argument seems pretty stupid. Jesus is returning from the mountain where Moses and Elijah showed up to meet with Him. Peter, James, and John saw Him in a radical and glorious transformation and God has said in cloud: this is my Son listen to Him. Now the disciples start arguing over which of them is the greatest. This is like a group of bald guys standing around Brad Pitt arguing over who has the best hair as if the answer wasn’t obvious enough.
This almost seems too stupid of an argument to have. If they are standing next to Jesus they have to know Jesus is greater then all of them. You would think if this conversation was as stupid as it seems that Jesus would respond by rebuking them. Instead He instructs them. They start having a discussion and Jesus leads them to the proper answer. Remember Jesus identity has just been revealed to them. They are finally starting to understand who He is and that in some form or fashion Jesus is coming to usher in the kingdom of God. Their argument then is not who is the greatest in the world but which of the disciples is the greatest in the eyes of Jesus. They are not competing on a global level they are competing with each other to see who of the disciples will be the greatest in the kingdom that Jesus is coming to establish. They know Jesus is greater then they are. They are fighting for over who gets to sit at His right and at His left.
Just because this conversation isn’t stupid doesn’t mean it is appropriate. We are in Luke 9:46. These guys have been following Jesus for three years. Still they have not been fully transformed by Him. Jesus has laid down His glory to come live as a man. We see Him constantly sacrificing Himself for others. Jesus goes out of His way to help people. Jesus focus is on laying down His life. Meanwhile the disciples are focused on glorifying their own. Jesus displays a selfless attitude while the disciples bicker about their own greatness. This sort of behavior does not make you look like Jesus.
Lk 9:46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.
Here is how this scene would likely play out. As they are traveling a discussion which turns into an argument breaks out amongst the disciples as to which of them is the greatest. They have to be very careful not to get too loud because it is not a conversation they want Jesus to hear. It’s like trying to have an unrelated conversation with a co-worker while in a meeting. You are going to want to try to hide what you are talking about so your boss doesn’t overhear you. So traveling at a slight distance from Jesus they whisper and argue about the different reasons each of them should be considered the greatest. Jesus is not an oblivious boss. He knows their thoughts and questions them.
You can imagine all twelve disciples going silent. They are suddenly aware of how inappropriate their discussion is and totally embarrassed that they have been caught having it. So they just stand their silently until the awkwardness becomes so overwhelming that one of them blurts out the question: who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? This discussion was a common among rabbis but is by no means unique to Judaism. As people we have a tendency to be pathologically egocentric. We live as if the world and everything in it revolves around us. Sometimes we don’t just want to be great but we want everyone else to know it. We are like peacocks.
The male peacock displays his feathers in efforts to impress a prospective mate. The size, color, and quality of these trains of feathers are used to attract the females. Some their trains of feathers can be as much as sixty inches long. What happens is the male opens His feather train and struts his stuff to win the affection of the females. They behave in such a way as to draw attention to themselves. We like to strut our stuff to get attention too. We buy fancy cars, nice houses, cool gadgets. This is often the reason we wear nice clothes, fancy jewelry, and lots of make up. We dress ourselves to get attention. We don’t just do it with stuff. We will use charity, awards, trophies, activities, and investments as ways of making ourselves stand out. Like peacocks these are the ways in which we display our feathers so we can get attention. That doesn’t mean if you wear nice clothes your egotistical it comes down to your motivation for wearing them.