“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
I’d say this command ranks up there with “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” as the most difficult of Jesus’ expectations. In an age like our own, characterized by privilege, entitlement, and an insistence on having our way, maintaining our rights and being respected, it may be a deal-breaker for some.
And yet, Jesus is dead serious.
The words come after another of the disciples’ “arguments.” This time, they were fussing over who among them would be the greatest. To their shame, the argument took place just after Jesus had told them (for the second time) that he would be betrayed and killed (“Never mind you Jesus. What about us?”). Beginning with this second prediction, and moving through the third, Mark devotes the next sixty-five verses to the discipleship requirement of selfless living. Three times in that section, he illustrates his message with children.
The illustration is a bit lost on us because our world prizes children, gives them priority, and does everything to protect them and see to their success. But in Jesus’ world, children were regarded little more than slaves. Abortion was common, as was infanticide. Jesus’ point was this: if you are going to follow Him, you must be willing to take the status of a child in the ancient world – which was no status at all. How important is this selfless attitude? Without it, Jesus will say later, there is no entrance into the Kingdom of God. Whereas selfless living may be a deal-breaker for us, self-centered living was a deal breaker for Jesus.