by Gary Wong
Gospel: St. Mark 10: 35-45
If you could pick any kind of lifestyle to live, what would you choose? Many people might choose the lifestyle of the rich and famous. Many people want to live a life of luxury. They’d want to live in a huge house, have a fleet of cars and an army of servants waiting on them hand and foot. On the other hand, I doubt if very many people would choose to live as a servant of the rich and famous, especially if their bosses were taking unfair advantage of them. Who would want to do all the dirty work for some spoiled rotten rich folk who abuse, rather than appreciate, the hired help? The choice seems obvious. Yet, today’s lesson turns that kind of thinking upside down. As God’s dearly loved children who are rich through faith in Christ, we willingly choose to live the lifestyle of a servant. Rather than seeking to be served, we find great joy and satisfaction in serving the Lord and our fellow human beings. Because of Jesus, we eagerly and wholeheartedly live as servants of Christ.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, being a servant wasn’t at the top of my list of great careers. I wanted to have a high-paying job where I could live a comfortable lifestyle. I wanted to be in a prestigious profession where people would look up to me. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to be great. The question is what is true greatness? That’s a lesson that Jesus’ disciples needed to learn. Now, few, if any of Jesus’ disciples were born into families who lived the privileged lifestyle of the rich and famous; they mostly came from working class families. Jesus’ disciples knew what it was to put in long hours, doing backbreaking work just to eke out a modest living.
When Jesus called, 'Follow me' they immediately gave up their old lifestyles and embraced the lifestyle of a disciple. Now, please understand. Jesus’ disciples weren’t necessarily looking for an easier life. They had to leave their families, homes, and jobs—really their entire way of life—in order to follow Jesus. The lifestyle of a disciple was not for the faint of heart. A disciple had to be willing to make huge sacrifices, up to and including his own life. Jesus declared, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Yet, knowing the cost, these twelve men freely and unhesitatingly made a commitment to serve Jesus wholeheartedly. Was it worth it? The sacrifices they made—what they gave up—could not begin to compare with the priceless blessings they received as they served their Savior.
Every day they were experiencing God’s grace first hand. They were hearing the very words of God as Jesus proclaimed and applied the gospel to people’s lives. They were given the privilege of sharing that message of forgiveness and hope. They were given insight into the mysteries of God’s love and the power to perform miracles in Jesus’ name. The Lord blessed their efforts and they were able to accomplish great things. But something happened along the way. Rather than focusing on serving God and others, their attitude became self serving. Rather than praising God and saying, "Look at what God has done through me” they boasted, "Look at the great things I’ve done!" Pride was rearing its ugly head. Not only did each disciple think he was great, they argued amongst each other about who was the greatest!
Jesus wanted to nip this arrogant, self serving attitude in the bud. Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). In other words, if you want to be at the top, start at the bottom and act as though you are still at the bottom. Someone who is truly great shows his greatness by serving others. The lesson that Jesus was teaching his disciples can be summed up this way: Be humble. Serve others. The question is did they learn that lesson? Sadly, the answer was no. St. Mark tells us that after that incident, two disciples approached Jesus to make a request. James and John asked, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory" (v.37).
Wow! It’s no wonder that the nickname of James and John was 'Sons of Thunder'! How could they make such a bold request, especially after Jesus had just talked about serving in humility? If we had been in Jesus’ position, we might have taken these brothers to task and said, “How dare you ask that! Why should you be put in these positions of prestige and power? What makes you think that you deserve to share in God’s glory?” Yet, rather than rebuking them, Jesus patiently said, “You don’t know what you are asking” (v.38). With a series of questions, Jesus then tested the brothers’ understanding of what it meant to be a disciple. They didn’t pass. Not only did James and John not get it, the other disciples also didn’t get it. When the other ten heard that James and John had made this request, they were ticked off at their fellow disciples—not because they thought that the request was out of line—but because James and John had beaten them to the punch!
Imagine how Jesus might have felt as his disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. Jesus had seen and heard enough. It was time for him to stop all of this foolishness. Calling all of them together, Jesus began to teach them about true greatness. The disciples’ biggest problem was that they were buying into the world’s view of greatness. They saw how the unbelieving Gentile rulers lorded their power and authority over those below them, and the disciples mistakenly thought that was the way they should act. “Not so with you” Jesus said. If anyone wants to be great in God’s eyes, he must be a servant. If anyone wants to be first in God’s kingdom, he must be a slave to all. Jesus then closed this lesson on greatness with this key verse: "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (10:45).
Jesus’ selfless statement turns conventional wisdom upside down. The world says that CEOs, celebrities and star athletes have achieved greatness. The world honors the commanding general, not the lowly private, for winning the victory. The winning quarterback, rather than the lineman in the trenches, gets the glory. Since Jesus is the Son of God, he alone deserves all glory, honor and praise. Jesus has been given all power, authority and dominion. So how did Jesus use his power? Jesus, the Son of Man, showed his greatness by humbling himself. Rather than lording his authority over everyone, Jesus set aside his divine glory and humbly served his Father and us.
Rather than being served, Jesus came to serve. And to give us an example of what he meant by humble service, we have St. John’s account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. As many of you know, the feet of people in Jesus’ day got rather dirty as they traveled on the dusty roads. So it was customary for the host to wash the feet of his guests. The master of the house usually delegated that job to a lowly servant. The problem was there was no servant where Jesus and his disciples had gathered for a meal. The water and basin were there; but none of his disciples stepped forward to perform this menial task. Apparently, they all thought they were too important to lower themselves to wash dirty, smelly feet. So Jesus got up from the table and wrapped a towel around his waist. After pouring water in the basin, he began to wash his disciples’ feet.
When he had finished his task, Jesus asked them, "Do you understand what I have done for you?" (Jn. 13:12). Jesus wasn’t talking about the mere act of washing the feet of his disciples; he was talking about the greatest act of selfless service that he would soon accomplish on the cross. Jesus was talking about washing away the sins of the world with his holy, precious blood. Even though we didn’t deserve it, Jesus gave up his life in order to give us eternal life. Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand or appreciate what Jesus had done for them until they had witnessed his sacrificial death on Good Friday and his glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday. Now they got it. Now they understood that a disciple of Christ willingly, humbly and wholeheartedly serves the Lord and his fellow man.
The question is do we get it? Jesus also calls us to follow him, deny ourselves and daily take up our crosses. We, too, are humbled by the grace Jesus has shown us by giving up his life to ransom us from sin, death, and the devil. Out of gratitude for what he has done, we gladly dedicate our lives to serve him and our fellow human beings. Our Savior has given us his precious gospel that motivates and thoroughly equips us for every good work. He gives us our time, talents, and treasures that we are to use in his service. What’s more, God has already planned the works that he would have us do. What are those works? God’s Word tells us: clothing the needy, feeding the hungry, giving a drink to the thirsty, visiting the sick and lonely—just to name a few. St. Peter encourages us to “use whatever gift [we] have received to serve others” (1 Pt. 4:10).
The new man in us finds joy in humble service. Our new man, however, is at war with our Old Adam that is totally self centered and only wants to be served, not serve. We’re sometimes tempted to not help people who reject our help. It’s not easy or fun to serve someone who is totally ungrateful and only criticizes your efforts. It’s tempting to give half hearted service or not serve at all when your boss acts like a tyrant, your children are being disrespectful and disobedient, or your coworkers are lazy good-for-nothings. The Apostle Paul basically says don’t give up. Rather, "serve wholeheartedly as if you are serving the Lord, not men" (Eph. 6:7, 8). We willing serve with our whole hearts, not to gain an earthly reward, but an undeserved, glorious reward in heaven that is ours through faith in Christ.
Friends, we are incredibly rich because of Jesus. God has lavished us with an endless supply of good gifts. We have a wealth of opportunities to serve the Lord and our fellow human man with those gifts. As God’s dearly loved children, we follow Jesus’ example and find joy in serving. Let us eagerly, humbly and wholeheartedly live as servants of Christ. Amen.
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