In Mark 9:33-35 there is a short little interchange between Jesus and his disciples. When they arrived at their destination (Capernaum) Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”
The disciples got quiet, perhaps embarrassed, because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
Now, that was and is a radical statement. It was and is countercultural. It is the Jesus Principle!
Jesus was trying to help them set their priorities – to get them in line with his new way of teaching.
Our world today is not that much different from first century Capernaum.
We so much want to be first. We want to be great. We want it to be all about “my needs, my wants, my wishes, my desires, my success.” We want to be at the top of the pyramid. We want to be No. 1.
Rest assured, at one level, there’s nothing really wrong with that.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to be successful. Personal ambition is a gift God has bestowed upon us to cause us to be our best.
When I have surgery, I want a doctor who is dedicated to being the very best doctor in town. When I go to a restaurant, I would like to think the chef is dedicated to being the very best chef in town. When I have my car repaired, I would like to think I have the best mechanic in town working on my car.
There is nothing wrong with striving to be No. 1 as long as we are able to put it into perspective. Notice that Jesus didn’t scold the disciples for wanting to be first. What he tried to do was help them re-align their priorities.
Jesus is letting the disciples know (and us) that being No. 1 (climbing to the top) is not where it’s at. That is not the road to abundant life. If you want to live a truly fulfilled life, then serving others, helping others, reaching out, listening, caring, and giving is where it’s at!
When Jesus said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all,” he was turning greatness completely upside-down. This Jesus principle is so profound and shocking that we are still trying to figure it out 2000 years later!
Rev. Dr. William Ward is the senior pastor at Providence Presbyterian Church on Hilton Head Island.