Who is the Greatest?

On more than one occasion, Jesus had to settle disputes between his disciples when they were arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom Jesus came to establish. On one occasion, the mother of James and John went to Jesus, along with her two sons, asking Jesus to put them in a place of honor in his kingdom, one on his right and the other on his left (Matthew 20:20-21). Can you imagine having your mother take you to your employer to request a promotion? Jesus had to explain to them every single time that being the greatest in the kingdom of God isn’t the same as being the greatest in the kingdom of this world. To be the greatest in the kingdom of God means to be willing to take the lowest position, not demanding the place of honor. While the world sees greatness as a position in which one has the privilege of being served, Jesus sees greatness as a position in which one has the privilege of serving others. Jesus said, “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:26-28)

In John chapters 13-16, we have the privilege of eavesdropping on Jesus’ final encounter with his disciples. Jesus knew that the time had come when he would have to leave this earth, so he used his final meal with his disciples to make sure they knew everything they needed to know to continue the mission he came to begin. His first order of business was to demonstrate to them something his words were unable to convey. In John 13:1-16, as Jesus and his disciples sit down for their meal, Jesus gets up, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist and begins to wash his disciples’ feet. The washing of feet was a customary practice in those times. Since people walked in the dirt wearing sandals, whenever they arrived at someone’s home for dinner, the servant of the house would wash their feet to get all of the dirt off. If we focus too much on the act of the foot washing, we risk losing the meaning of what Jesus was trying to demonstrate. Jesus. The Messiah. The Son of God. God in the flesh. The one who just days before was given a grand entrance into Jerusalem, taking the place of a lowly servant to wash the feet of his disciples. The man who was supposed to be their king, doing what no other king on earth would do, serving his followers.

When Jesus was done, he asked them, “Do you understand what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17) Jesus was showing his disciples that if they want to be great in the kingdom of God, they must be willing to be the least. The first thing Jesus wanted his disciples to know before he left this earth was that greatness in the kingdom of God is not how the world sees greatness. In a world that is obsessed with the power that comes with high status, be humble. In a world that is obsessed with being served, be a servant.

Philippians 2:2-5 says, “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death - even death on a cross!”

As we reflect on our Savior, and remember the sacrifice he made for us, let us also remember the example he set for us: his humility, servanthood, and his obedience. May the words to this song ring true on our hearts until he returns for us:
“Make me a servant, Lord, make me like you.
For you are a servant. Make me one too.
Make me a servant. Do what you must do—to make me a servant.
Make me like you.”

Karisa Madera
Executive Assistant Central Church of Christ
Del Rio, TX