What do you make of the disciples arguing amongst themselves about which one of them “is the greatest”?
Doesn’t it sound too much like some childish school yard fight? Doesn’t it make you wonder why it seems so hard for the disciples “to get it”; to get what Jesus is all about?
I mean, the disciples, up to that point, had been spending already a lot of time with Jesus, observing his ministry as he gave attention to and cared for the least, the lowest and the last.
Time and again, they had witnessed his compassion especially for the most poor and vulnerable.
They had already seen how Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, and talked to those whom everyone else ignored or tried to avoid.
They heard him preach about how the smallest, lowest, and least among them, were precious in God’s eyes, and the greatest in the Kingdom of God.
They had eaten with him, travelled the dusty roads of Palestine with him, experienced first-hand his self-giving love and restorative powers.
Their argument amongst themselves about “who is the greatest?” tells us that they just didn’t “get it”; they didn’t “get” what Jesus’ teaching and ministry is all about, even after having spent so much time, physically, in his presence.
But are we, the 21st century church and 21st century disciples any better? Truth be told, we have just as hard a time “getting it” as they did. Truth be told, we too, like the disciples, are just as confused, muddled and thick-headed. We too are the least, the lost, and the lowly.
Isn’t it true, that when, for example, we become anxiously preoccupied with how to be “the best church,” the “strongest financially” among the others, we too “just don’t get it”?
When, for example, our conversations reflect more fear and anxiety, than hope and trust in Jesus?
Or when we focus too much on institutional preservation instead of spiritual transformation, on buildings rather than seeking the face of Christ?
Isn’t it true, that we too, frequently, “don’t get it”, losing sight of Jesus and his core mission and ministry among the least, the lost and the lowly?
In the Gospel text, Jesus says something to his disciples that reflects what his actions have been all along: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And then he takes a child, saying essentially that receiving, welcoming, serving someone as small, lowly and little as a child, is the same as receiving and welcoming Jesus himself.
Back in Jesus’ day, in the predominantly Greek and Roman culture of his day, certain types of people were seen as having very low status, without honour or dignity. They were: women, children and servants.
A child in particular did not contribute much if anything to the economic value of a household or community. One couldn’t hope to receive any financial or social benefit from favouring a child. Simply put, there were no personal advantages or benefits one could get from offering hospitality to, or favouring a servant, a woman, or a child. And so, in that society, they had no value, worth, or status whatsoever.
In the Kingdom of God, however, in the eyes of Jesus, these lowly ones were of equal value and dignity as all others, and as such, deserved the same, if not more, attention, care and service.
Being a servant Church … to the least, lost and lowly. Serving others in their need. This is what the focussed mission and ministry of the Church is, and should be … to focus our imagination and preoccupation with how best to fulfill the specific mission and ministry of Jesus, to be “servants of all”, in our own situation and context.
But, in our struggle to figure that out, in our confused, thick-headed moments of “not getting it”, of missing the point of what the Church is all about and who we are as followers of Jesus, we suddenly realize we too are the least, the lowly, and the lost.
We too, are the broken and wounded ones to whom Jesus especially shows mercy, grace and care. As the lowly and broken ones, we remain precious in God’s eyes. God hasn’t given up on us, nor the Church of the 21st century, just as he didn’t give up on his first disciples. By God’s Spirit of grace and strength always in and around us, we can always be learning and growing into being servants of all.
Scott Morris, from a young age, enjoyed the benefits of a privileged life, and as a teenager, attended an exclusive academy, the north side of Atlanta, Georgia. As a talented, outgoing, energetic person, he then went on to earn a divinity degree from Yale University, and medical degree from Emory University. He was set, and could’ve had his pick of jobs with all the perks and lavish rewards.
And yet, instead of pursuing a lucrative career, Scott helped set up in Memphis Tennessee, the “Church Health Centre” a non-profit organization not relying on government funds, but on the consistent, dependable and generous donations of churches and individuals.
Supported by neighbouring churches, this Centre has turned out to become today the largest faith-based health clinic in the U.S., serving over fifty thousand patients.
Its key mission is to provide for the health needs of the homeless and those without health insurance. He chose Memphis as the place for this Centre precisely because of its relatively large population of the working poor.
Scott Morris’ passion, joy and purpose was to provide health care for low income people who couldn’t afford it. He gave up other pursuits, which he easily could’ve done, in order to become a servant. By serving the least, the lost and lowly, he and his church found a focus, a purpose, and contentment. By serving others in this particular way, they knew they were serving, worshipping and loving God in Jesus.
Here are the words of another servant, Mother Teresa. She said, “Whoever the poorest of the poor are, they are Christ for us – Christ under the guise of human suffering…When we touch the sick and needy, we touch the suffering body of Christ…Through them, God shows his face.”
Being a servant, might in fact bring us face to face with the Holy One.