Published on March 19th, 2020 | by Stephen Barrington0
Greatness through serving, Matthew 20:17-28. March 11, 2020 by Barro
Womin-Jeka, sisters and brothers and warm greetings from a sunny Melbourne autumn day. I trust all is well in your world during this Lent season. Today’s gospel text comes from Matthew 20:17-28 where Jesus teaches his followers about greatness through servanthood.
The setting begins with the writer announcing that Jesus and his disciples are about to go to Jerusalem, where he will face the grand welcome of Palm Sunday, Holy Week, betrayal, the cross then resurrection. The very things that we are reflecting on in this season of Lent.
Matthew records that the mother of James and John comes to Jesus with a request. Some suggest that Matthew is gracious here, because in Mark’s version of this story the disciples come directly to Jesus themselves (Mark 10:35-45). The request is to be great, to be up there with Jesus.
It is easy to dismiss this request 2,000 years later as disciples simply misunderstanding what Jesus was about. But how often do we ask similar things in our attitudes, in our perceptions and our assumptions? We deserve to be great, we are better than most people around us, more important than others and should be treated better, after all, we are important.
It is so easy to have our world revolve around us, and not see things from a bigger perspective. It is easy to simply be thinking about what is best for me, not thinking from a Kingdom point of view.
This is an easy temptation to fall into, and it can be clothed in good intentions. I love how human this story is, the disciples are indignant (read pissed off) when they hear about this request. I wonder if some of them were jealous that they didn’t get in first and ask Jesus themselves.
Jesus in his usual subversive style gathers them around for a little action-reflection teaching moment. Whoever wants to be great, must serve. Whoever wants to be first shall be last. These are just some of Jesus’ great reversal messages.
I remember years ago being on mission with John Smith, visiting schools and churches interstate. We came across a sign outside a church that described them as one of the ‘greatest churches in the region’. In his usual fashion, John wanted to ask them if that meant they practiced foot washing and serving the broken in their community.
This really flies in the face of greatness in our world today. Great leaders are seen to be successful, rich, famous, and often ruthless. Some command great armies and attempt to influence the stockmarket for the benefit of them and their rich mates. Most thrive on power and control and love the limelight. Successful people grace the cover of our magazines, are on our screens, and are in our face. We have it drummed into us from an early age, to strive for greatness, success and to be important.
Jesus takes the wind out of the disciples (and our) sails when he teaches another way. Greatness comes from serving. We are not called to be upwardly mobile, in fact, it has been said, we descend into greatness.
In case the disciples forget this message, shortly afterwards Jesus gives them a practical reminder when he gets down and washes their feet, the task of a literal servant.
This was an important teaching moment for Jesus and the disciples as they headed towards Jerusalem and the cross. This teaching of Jesus is not an optional side issue, but represents the core of who he is and for us what it means to be a follower of him today.
Servanthood takes the focus off ourselves, onto people around us, especially those who are often forgotten. It is not something that we can do on our own, but with the help of the divine. We need to ask God to allow us to see this broken world through their eyes.
This past weekend, many of our chapters rode down to Point Lonsdale pier to remember the 1st anniversary of the passing into glory of John Smith. We held a simple service of thanksgiving and had prayers for John, his family and were inspired to continue his legacy serving the last the least and the lost as Jesus taught us.
So this week, when we consider how ‘great’ we may become, let us pause, reflect on Jesus and ask ourselves, who is he inviting us to serve and how can we descend into greatness today? Amen.
Barro – Melbourne chapter, Australia
(Today’s image comes from Pentridge prison in 1991, where God’s Squad hosted the first bike show in a maximum security prison in Australia. We had 7 other patch clubs join us that day, plus the inmates and John was able to share a message of hope)