On Sunday I preached on Mark 10:32-45. The passage is a series of conversations through which Jesus reveals the path to greatness.
James and John approach Jesus and petition him: ““Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (v. 37). They believe Jesus is destined for great things. Power. Glory. Fame. When Jesus establishes his kingdom rule, they want places of prominence within the coming government. They are hungry for power and the attending privileges that come with it.
Jesus uses their request to subvert their entire worldview.
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:42-44)
Jesus offers a contrasting vision of authority, power, greatness, and glory. James and John, who desire power OVER others, must learn that those who follow Jesus are to use power FOR others. Power and authority are gifts that must be stewarded for the benefit of those under the power and authority.
Jesus makes it clear that authority and greatness in God’s kingdom is defined by one’s ability to use their power to serve others. Tightening the screws on this upside-down paradigm, Jesus even insists that “whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
The path to greatness Jesus holds out looks very different in a world that values power over others. He calls his followers to the pattern of leadership that he embodied; a self-sacrificing use of power that leads to life and flourishing for others.
Walking the Path to Greatness
Even if it is meager, each of us holds a certain measure of power and influence. What might it look like to move into our marriages, workplaces, schools, sports teams, relationships, etc., with a view to use that power to serve and bless others?
In his book The Servant as Leader, Robert Greenleaf defines those who live out of this Jesus inspired paradigm as servant-leaders.
“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
Regardless of whether we occupy formal positions of authority, the characteristics that define servant leaders are ones that each of us can integrate in our lives.
Like James and John, our hearts crave greatness. But too often we seek to satisfying this craving by putting ourselves in positions of power over others. We desire to be on top and in control; masters but never mastered. Jesus declares this path to “greatness” to be an anti-God and anti-human path to walk.
Embracing the heart of a servant, Jesus says, is the path to true greatness. And it’s a glorious and world-transforming path to walk.