Scripture: Luke 9:43b-56 (ESV)
And all were astonished at the majesty of God. But while they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men.” But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.
An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. But Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. For he who is least among you all is the one who is great.”
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.”
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.
The disciples want to be great, and Jesus wants the disciples to be great. But what counts as greatness? It turns out that Jesus' plan for greatness isn't just different than the disciples' plan. It's the exact opposite. He says: "He who is least among you all is the one who is great." In Mark’s gospel, Jesus adds, "If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all." Greatness, in God's kingdom, is characterized by humility and loving service for others. This passage gives us three practices for greatness--practices that help us to become humble by taking us out of the center of our own lives.
First, receive a child. Jesus is talking about something that goes deeper than simply picking up a child and giving him a hug. He’s talking about receiving and welcoming and embracing the people around us who are the last and the least, who are usually overlooked, who don’t appear to be very useful, whose company won’t do much to increase our social status, who really don’t seem to have much to give. This is what great people do: they receive and welcome and embrace people who, according to the world’s measurements, aren’t great at all. Truly great people serve and love the last and the least. Who are the last and the least that God has put into your life? Who is Jesus calling you to welcome and embrace?
Second, accept an outsider. The disciples are upset because a rogue disciple is doing good things in Jesus' name, but is not following with them. Jesus doesn't seem to be bothered by the rogue disciple at all. He says, "Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” What's our attitude toward people who aren’t part of our tribe—who aren’t in our immediate community. Can we find ways to accept them and affirm the good work they’re doing?
Finally, abandon the way of violence. James and John want to call down fire on a Samaritan village that doesn’t receive Jesus. The Samaritans and the Jews were bitter enemies of one another. They had different politics, and a different religion. They had very different visions of how the world ought to be. John and James are saying, "Lord, wouldn’t it be right for us to destroy them?" But Jesus rebukes them. It’s a harsh term. Why the rebuke? Because James and John want to accomplish their mission through force and violence. That’s how they expect God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done. Jesus’ plan, however, is to bring God’s kingdom through weakness, and even suffering, rejection, and death. Who do you perceive to be your enemy? In what ways are you tempted to wish them ill? In what ways would you want to call down fire from heaven against them? Can we hear the rebuke of Jesus? This is not the way of his kingdom.
Jesus brings the kingdom through death and resurrection. That's how we can expect it to come in our lives, too. Spend some time gazing at your savior. He is the one who has received you as a child. He has accepted you when you were an outsider. He died for you while you were still his enemy. He is the humble God, the Lord of glory, who is also the last and the least.