INI + AMEN.
(1. Oops!: Jesus teaches about His death and resurrection, but we don’t get it.)
In our Gospel text today Jesus teaches us about what it means to be first and last, the greatest and the least. He does it while He’s meandering His way through Galilee towards Jerusalem. He teaches it over and over again and in way we don’t quite expect. He’s continually teaching the same thing. He teaches that “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” That’s what He keeps going on and on about. That’s good because that’s the preaching and teaching that we are forgiven, that we are at peace with God.
The problem is that the disciples didn’t get it. “They did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.” But the real problem with what confronts us today in our text is we don’t get it either. How often do we hear the Gospel, but it doesn’t make any impact on us at all? Are there times when we want the Christian faith to be about something else entirely? About something other than Jesus crucified and raised for sinners? Maybe it’s about helping those in need. Being a better person. Being nice. And we must always be wary of getting tired of hearing the sweet Gospel. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all that…” Well, if you truly did, why do you tire of hearing it?
(2. Ugh!: Instead we want to compare ourselves and others—who’s greatest?)
But it’s worse than all that. Look at what the disciples are up to: “When he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” We like to think that the disciples were arguing like this: Peter said, “I’m the best disciple. I’m first to answer His questions.” Then John answered, “Well, I’m the disciple He loves, so there.” But that’s not it at all. Well, maybe there was some of that, but it was probably much more subtle than that. It’s just like it is for you an me, actually. You see, we tend to focus on ourselves and how we compare to this person and that. Think about how we do that. So much of our lives is “keeping up with the Joneses”, so much is trying to be king of the hill. We don’t want to be last or least. No one wants to finish in last place.
Now, it’s not always as overt as “I’m better than you are,” but we all know that we compare ourselves to others. Sometimes we find ourselves lacking, but more often than not we come out on top. We all know the people who are less kind than we are. We all know the people who are less involved at church than we are. We know who we do a better job than. We may admit we have our problems, but we know that were better off than the people out in the world. We’ve got our heads on straight. Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m better than what you’re giving me credit for, pastor.” Is it any wonder why the world thinks that we think we’re better than everyone else?! We’re obsessed with who’s the greatest.
(3. Aha!: JESUS, THE GREATEST, SERVES US, THE LEAST.)
This is why it’s so important for Jesus to teach us our whole lives about His death and resurrection. It’s not only the preaching that saves us from our comparisons. But in His death and resurrection we see that
JESUS, THE GREATEST, SERVES US, THE LEAST.
(4. Whee!:) That’s what it means for Jesus to be the Greatest.
Jesus is the Greatest, the Best, He’s the perfect Son of the Father. “But Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a slave, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” That’s His glory. His being first, His being God is most seen in His being least for you. The perfect became sin for you. The most Blesséd became the curse for us. The Resurrection and Life died. Jesus is the first become last. The Lord of all became servant of all for you. He rescues us from our hills that we try to be kings and queens of, and He does it by becoming King of Calvary’s hill.
(5. Yeah!: The least continue receiving Jesus.)
We are truly least, but Christ has made us greatest. We are last, but Christ has made us first. This is so because we have received Jesus. What was our “least” became His, and what is His “greatest” is ours. What need is there to be better than anyone? We are all people for whom Christ died. All is gift. Each of you is the apple of the heavenly Father’s eye for you have received Jesus. As He says, “Whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
Even the least among us receive Jesus—the children!—because He receives them. “He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and took him in his arms.” He loves children. He hugged that child. They do receive Jesus. That’s what Jesus means by receiving a child “in my name.” We deliver them to Him, into His arms. In fact, we are all those children—baptized children of God our heavenly Father. Why go about comparing? You can’t get any better or greater than that!
INI + AMEN.