Short Meditations in Mark’s Gospel: 192. A Serving Principle
Mk 9:35 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.”
I’m never quite sure if wanting to be the greatest is a sign of being egomaniacal or of insecurity. Few of us would admit to it, I suspect, but the truth is we’d like to feel we’re ‘top of the pile’ although there are lots of us who struggle with the fact that we clearly know that we’re nowhere near the top of the pile.
Self-esteem and self-worth are tricky things and, as we quoted previously, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things’. In other words we kid ourselves about our motivation. But the disciples had been discussing this as they walked along the road, and now Jesus had pulled them up on it. What goes on in the world and what goes on in the kingdom of God are often diametrically opposed to each other.
Jesus sat down. He took on the teacher-role, for teachers in those days always sat when they taught. Sitting is also a sign of anchoring our attention. I’m not going anywhere. You want to hear what I have to say? They stay here, be still and listen! He knew what they had been arguing about. OK, he says, let’s take this head on: if any one of you wants to be first – as you clearly do – then you need to recognise in my Father’s kingdom those who are ‘first’ or who are considered to be important, are in fact those who have put themselves last. You want to be recognised first, served first, dealt with first, acknowledged first, esteemed first? OK, go to the back of the queue and see what needs people have there.
To be ‘last’ means you are going to take on the attitude and lifestyle of a servant, willing to serve and bless others, and so often the people most in need are those who are some way down the social ‘queue’ or who have been banished to the end of the queue.
You want to be a ‘somebody’ in God’s kingdom? Then become a servant. We seem to have an increasing number of ‘old fashioned’ dramas on TV, often portraying life “upstairs” and “downstairs”. The good servant is the one who sees what needs doing and does it. There’s no question of ‘my rights’. They just know what their job is and part of that is seeing what needs doing and doing it! It is thinking about the needs of others and seeing how you can ensure those needs are met.
Now in the church, this is a very real and very practical thing. It means never looking down your nose at other people but seeing yourself as called to serve and bless other people. What do they need? What is their need, whether they are aware of it or not? How can I bless them and serve them. Back of the world’s ‘queue’, front of God’s!