Summary: I am the greatest, no I’m th egreatest...so the arguement went, but hey they were in for a shock none of them were great, not yet, for none were servants, none were behaving like little children.
Mark 9:33-37 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.
35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “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.”
We have this description of the disciples in Capernaum, and quite a few commentators believe that this was at the house of Peter and Andrew, and personally it’s my thoughts that it may have been at their family home; their Mum and Dad’s place.
Now these saintly people, these disciples were questioned by Jesus, they were challenged “What were you arguing about on the road?” Now Jesus knew what they were arguing about. But the disciples knowing that they had a few issues around control and around status kept quiet, why, because they had been arguing about who was the greatest, not about was God great, or was Jesus great, this was about where they fitted in the scheme of things about their own standing in one another’s eyes. Who was Jesus most trusted, most favored, his right hand man, his best mate, who would he call on when the chips were down?
There’s another similar story about James and John and their mum and how she told her boys that she would approach Jesus about who would sit at which side when he came into his kingdom. Remember in that snippet of Jesus ministry in Mark’s gospel chapter 10:35-45, the other disciples were irate that James and John would ask because all of them were keen on being the greatest, Jesus right hand man. Then again this is not something any of us here would ever want for ourselves is it, greatness? Who would want greatness? I would pick that the vast majority of people could quite happily jump into greatness as long as it didn’t come with celebrity.
Jesus sees this as an opportunity to teach the disciples so he takes the posture of teacher; “Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Back in the day teachers taught sitting down, the blackboard was yet to be invented, students did not have to attend, to be called was a great tribute, to be chosen to be a student of a rabbi was a great honour. The teacher would sit; his disciples listening intently to everything that was taught, for it was their aim to be like their teacher, to gain his understanding of the word of God, to walk in his dust, to become a rabbi like the rabbi you learnt from. There was no need for flying chalk, or dusters, detentions were unheard of. The class room was where the rabbi was, his words were precious.
So this group of young disciples with their egos in full bloom, chosen by a prominent rabbi, who many believed would soon have an earthly kingdom, naturally wanted to be in positions of power. Who was the greatest, whose words would float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, who would bring about a ten thousand year reign, who was going to be top of the pile? Oh the power the prestige that awaited the favoured one.
Jesus words no doubt took the wind out of their sails just a tad, and left them becalmed as far as greatness went. Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
You can almost imagine, this bunch of bold young men gagging and blowing whatever they may have been drinking or eating at the time out their nostrils, spitting and coughing as the these words hit home. Last, servant, “ I want to be a great rabbi!, I didn’t leave a good job with decent pay to be a servant, last, no one wants to be last, I always felt sorry for the guy who was last, very last, servant not likely!” These blokes had so much to learn about Jesus kingdom, these blokes would eventually see a very real example of true servant hood.
The next verse is an interesting one as Jesus takes a child and has him stand among them, I wonder who was this child? Some say that it might have been Peter’s son. I wonder if it could have been Peter and Andrew’s sibling, one of a number of children that made up their family. They had arrived at home with their teacher, they were now very important, they had arrived with all of their travel companions and neglected their duty as older siblings.