“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
With Jesus’ third passion prediction, we get another teaching opportunity. This time around, the prediction is noteworthy because it is highly detailed; Jesus knows what is coming and not simply in generalities. However, it is also interesting to see that this time it inspires fear and astonishment in His hearers and not simply confusion.
Whatever they think of these increasingly detailed predictions of Jesus’ death, the disciples are still gearing up for their positions in the new order of things. James and John attract particular anger from the others by asking for the two most influential and powerful positions in the new kingdom. Jesus sees this dangerous attitude as an opportunity to teach.
In the Kingdom of God, leadership is not about power. Jesus phrases His teaching in a way that could be read a couple of ways. When He says that those who desire “greatness” will be servants and even slaves, it could be stretched to read so that the desire for power will lead to a low position. However, what is really being taught here is that Kingdom leadership is something wholly other that worldly leadership. In the kingdom leadership is all about serving others. It is not at all about power, as power resides solely with God.
This is something with which Christian institutions struggle all the time. Ambition in the church and Christian organizations is a hard thing to gauge at times. We all fall victim to our worldly, cultural perspectives. What is usually clear to those who will see it is the fact that ambition to lead is something to be viewed skeptically. The best leaders are those who prove their worth when leadership is thrust upon them. They don’t pursue power but rather the opportunity to help others fulfill their potential, to succeed.
Unfortunately, we tend to persist in our understanding of leadership as power.
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