Summary: A sermon about humility.
“Who’s Number One?”
I love that the writers of the Gospels included this story.
It teaches us so much, and it also holds a mirror up to me—perhaps to all of us as human beings.
There is no place for judgment here, for who of us hasn’t found ourselves vying for the best places, the highest places, the places of most recognition and honor in the Kingdom of God?
Ambition is a very good thing as long as it is not twisted up with pride, ego and the myriad of other things that ruin us and get us in all kinds of trouble.
Yes, ambition well placed is good…like just about everything else.
Misplaced, it can be ruinous, evil.
So, in our Gospel Lesson Jesus starts by asking the disciples: “What were you arguing about on the road?”
Now, we might want to know, “on the road to where?”
Well, on the surface, their argument took place on the way through Galilee to a house in Capernaum.
But, in the larger context of things, their argument took place on the way to Jerusalem and the Cross.
Jesus had just finished telling them, for the second time, that He will be betrayed and killed and after three days He will rise.
But when they hit the road they start arguing about who is the greatest.
Perhaps, they were boasting about which of them had spent the most time with Jesus, or maybe which one had seen the greatest miracle.
Maybe they were arguing about which one of them had done the most work, who was Jesus’ favorite, who deserved the most appreciation and the greatest reward.
In any event, what Jesus has been teaching them…
…what Jesus has been talking about appears to have had little influence on them in this regard.
Have you ever felt like that in your own life?
Have you ever found yourself arguing about human, worldly greatness when you have been taught otherwise, know otherwise…
…but still desire that kind of greatness non-the-less?
Do you ever find yourself comparing yourself to others…
…trying to out-do others in unhealthy ways?
Do you ever try and “up” your self-esteem by buying a car to impress others, a house, expensive clothing or trying to compete for greatness in other ways?
I think we all do this sometimes.
And if we are trying to follow Christ…
…if we know better…
…it really isn’t a fun place to be.
Notice that when Jesus asks the disciples what they were arguing about on the road we are told: “They kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.”
So, they knew better, didn’t they?
And Jesus isn’t hard on them.
He doesn’t yell and scream.
He doesn’t condemn them or tell them that they are bad, bad, bad.
Instead, Jesus uses this as a teaching moment.
“Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.’”
Now, this is something most of us don’t hear every day.
And, I think we can picture the disciples’ blank faces when Jesus says this radical, other-worldly thing.
So, to make His point Jesus picks out a little child, probably one of the children of His hosts, takes that child in His arms and plops him or her down right in the middle of their discussion.
Then He said to them: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
And I think Jesus is using this child as a “for instance.”
Do you know what I mean?
It could have been anyone who is dependent on the care of others, anyone on the margins, anyone who is vulnerable, anyone who can’t pay us back for what we do.
Remember what Jesus said the marks of true discipleship are in Matthew Chapter 25:31-46?
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…thirsty and you gave me something to drink…a stranger and you invited me in.
I needed clothes and you clothed me.
I was sick and you looked after me.
I was in prison and you visited me.”
Doing things for people who can’t pay us back, will not be able to give us worldly success or fortune…
…but just doing them for the sake of Christ, in the name of Christ…
…in the name of love…
…for the sake of love…
…without expecting a reward…
…that is a mark of true greatness.
At the first Church where I was a Pastor I went to visit some first-time guests.
And as they were letting me in, they told me how welcome they had been made to feel and how impressed they were that members of the church had sent them letters welcoming them and thanking them for worshiping with us.