“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Matthew 20:26
In politics, the paths to success and significance are paved with the right contacts, the right connections, and the right contributions. In Chicago, which was my adopted hometown for 20 years, a series of investigations and indictments have unearthed the steamier side of this cycle—political favors and premium jobs doled out in exchange for campaign funds and other perks. Sadly, the common defense in most of these cases is, “That’s just politics. It’s how things are done.” As one comedian aptly put it, “You know it’s cold in Chicago when the politicians have their hands in their own pockets!”
Actually, from an earth-side point of view, there may be some advantages to a “political” approach to life. Our world is all about “who you know” and “What have you done for me lately?” We are primed early on to look out for ourselves and to do whatever it takes to not miss the big break.
But if you see yourself as a follower of Christ, that kind of thinking bears little resemblance to His life and teaching. Take for instance the encounter that Jesus had with two of His most committed disciples. An encounter that only goes to prove that even the best of us can still have those political instincts alive and well, down-deep inside.
James and John grab for the brass ring as they try to cash in on some relational capital. In Matthew 20:21, we read that James and John may have convinced their mother to petition Jesus for some plum cabinet positions in the new kingdom: “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” Wow, what a bold request! But if you don’t stick up for yourself, hey, who will?
What were these guys thinking? Probably the same kinds of thoughts that cross our minds as we think about our role in Jesus’ plan: “I’m sure I could be doing that job much better than that person. When is God going to entrust that kind of position to me?” “Serve as an usher? No thanks, but don’t forget to call me when that elder position is open.” Or, “I’m really bummed that I’ve done all of this and no one has even offered a word of thanks.” Or we might think, “If I’m nice to him I can leverage our relationship to get ahead.” “We’ve had them over for dinner twice, and they have never included us in anything!”
Sound familiar? Sadly, I don’t think I’m alone in battling the inborn desire to be noticed, to be affirmed, and to feel significant. Scripture records that the other disciples were visibly ticked at James and John’s request—probably because they had beaten them to the punch and used their mother in the process. Talk about unfair leveraging of relationships!
So what is the cure for this disease of “Hey! How about me?” self-promotionitis. Well, it is found in the response of Christ when He said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).
A servant? The one who quietly and humbly submits to and serves the desires of others regardless of personal recognition? That doesn’t sound like the politician’s path to greatness or the world’s path to significance, does it?
But it’s the path Jesus took. Before going all the way to the cross, He told His disciples: “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). So, if we’re striving to be like Him, no task is beneath us, no person is below us, and no legitimate sacrifice is too great. From Jesus’ point of view, servanthood is the path to significance. As a friend of mine says, “In the kingdom, the way up is down!”
Let’s drop the old “What will others do for me?” routine and get on with serving others as Jesus has served us.