Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. But he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who have authority over them have themselves called ‘Benefactors.’ It is not to be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you should become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. You are those who stood by me in my trials. I bestow on you a kingdom, just as my Father bestowed one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom. And you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
— Luke 22:24-30
Like the disciples, we seem to be always jockeying for position. We are driven to succeed, to prosper, to win. So when someone else gets the promotion at work, someone else gets the recognition at church, someone else gets the trophy at play, we battle resentment. It happens in a million ways, big and small. For some of us, it only takes losing a parking space or the big piece of chicken at dinner to feel slighted.
At work or at church or at home we may feel like we aren’t properly respected. And maybe we aren’t. But when the disciples are trying to figure out which one of them should be declared the greatest, Jesus does not allow it for a second. Instead, he identifies such concern for what it really is—worldliness.
“This is the way those who do not know God think,” he is saying. He contrasts this concern for one’s position—for respect, for renown, for power—with the kingdom of God.
It was a jockeying for position, remember, that brought sin and death into the world. Adam and Eve wanted to be greater than God had already declared them to be. This is pride, and it will rot us out from the inside. If you think back to the great blueprint of the kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount, remember how Jesus begins with those Beatitudes, announcing that God’s kingdom has come to set things back right-side up. In the kingdom, then, the blessings come not to those who trust in riches or power or earthly happiness, but to the poor, the downtrodden, the grieving.
Jesus himself has come not to lord his deity over sinners but to dwell along side them, to identify as one of them, despite being sinless himself, and to serve and to suffer and to die. This is the way of the kingdom. It is the opposite of pride.
And yet—there is glory in it. Jesus commands humility from us but he does not leave the humble man hanging! It is the meek, remember, who will inherit the earth.
Jesus here tells his followers not to worry about their position, their power, their respect and renown. God will take care of that. If we will humble ourselves, God will exalt us at the proper time (1 Peter 5:6, James 4:10). Vindication will come. So he promises them thrones (v.30). The way to true greatness, in the meantime, is to get low.