I can just picture the scene here. On Thursday, the disciples arrive in the Upper Room they have rented for the Passover and immediately they start positioning for the best seats (or reclining pillows as it were). In this tradition the most prominent and important people sat near the host. And here are the disciples just arrived and already debating about who would sit where.
In case one wonders where they were getting their delusions of grandeur, consider that they had just returned from an itinerate preaching tour. In general they had been welcomed and accepted. And as they started performing miracles and doing healings they developed a certain form of popularity. People liked them, they were rock stars.
They wanted to be liked, wanted to draw crowds and develop followings. They had some idea that they were in Jerusalem with Jesus because something big was about to happen – something important that dealt with the kingdom – and they were excited. And here they were having an exclusive holiday meal with their leader and they start bickering about who is considered the greatest.
I have to assume that Jesus got a bit frustrated at this point. All week he had been talking about giving up power and lifting up the oppressed and now they start bickering about who is the greatest. Talk about missing the point. So he says to them – “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
Jesus as always turns things upside-down. Unlike most pep talks that focus on winning and showing how superior you are to everyone else, Jesus encourages them to serve. He tells them not to be like those who seek power and lord it over others. To not gather a following that idolizes them. But instead tells them if they are in positions of power they should be using it to serve others – to be a community that cares for each other. Jesus then models that community by breaking bread with them and by performing the lowest form of service – that of washing his disciples’ feet. Even he – the leader they follow is not establishing a kingdom to rule over but creating an ethos of love and service.
This act of communion, of serving one other, should remind us of the sort of community we should be – one that turns the hierarchies of this world upside-down and values service and love more than power and prestige.
This week I will be cross-posting the reflections I wrote for Journey’s IFC’s blog relating the events of Holy Week to our church’s value statements. Some of these have appeared in different forms here at onehandclapping in the past. Image – “Christ Breaking Bread – Navajo”