Mark 9 has really been pressed upon me this past week. Jesus just gets done telling the disciples that he is going to be killed and raised from the dead and yet, out of all the things that the disciples could be talking about they in fact argue about who among them is the greatest. Incredible.
The saddest part of this is that I am no different. Though I might not have this conversation openly with my peers, in the deepest and darkest parts of my heart I am constantly having this conversation with myself comparing myself to others. And even worse, like the disciples, this conversation takes place in light of the cross and the resurrection.
Of course Jesus knowing everything asks them the question the disciples feared, “What were you arguing about on the road.” My classmate who presented this passage in our Greek Class said, “It is as if Jesus’ question flipped on the lights in a dark room, exposing the skeletons in the closet.”
In His perfect, gentle, yet terribly strong way, Jesus turns the expectations from the world upside down. He says if someone wants to be first he must be the last. To be great one must be a servant. Ironically, Jesus doesn’t say that it is wrong to be great, but just simply describes what greatness truly is. Jesus embodies this greatness, for He says, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
One of my favorite stories in Church History was about a pope in the sixth century named Gregory the Great. Gregory was the first monk to ever become pope. He lived to serve the poor of Rome and Constantinople. Respected for his great administrative skills he was elected as pope, which took some convincing to do. Even though he became the most elevated position within the church at the time he refused any grandiose titles. Instead he preferred to be called “The Servant to the Servants of the Most High.” He lived to serve others. It wasn’t until after he died that he was considered to be Gregory the Great. Ironically, this was a title that he would have refused in his lifetime, which only showed that knew what it meant to be great.
This call to greatness is counter-intuitive, counter-cultural, and counter-self. How we live out our finite, weak, and sinful understanding of greatness reveals that we don’t really believe Jesus’ understanding of greatness. In the Kingdom if we want to move upward we must in reality move downward to wash the feet of others. Christ modeled true greatness for us. We just must believe in Him and follow.