Becoming a Servant Like Jesus (Mark 9:33-50)

I have a recurring dream in which I’m the President of the United States. (Don’t laugh! I’d be the fourth George to hold the office.) During my two terms in office, I—in no particular order of importance—establish world peace, secure America’s borders, eliminate domestic poverty, tame the opposition party, and set a standard of presidential eloquence that meets or exceeds Abraham Lincoln’s.

Then I wake up.

The waking world is different than the dreaming world. In the dreaming world, I am powerful. What I set out to do, I accomplish, despite opposition or obstacles. I achieve what the Greeks called kleos—the fame or renown that attaches itself to heroic deeds. When I wake up, however, I am horribly nearsighted, so I put on glasses. I am stiff with arthritis, so I take anti-inflammatory medication. When I go to work, any number of things gets in the way of my accomplishment. I am an associate pastor, one of several on the staff of a large church. [This was first written in 2006.] Where’s the kleos in that? In the waking world, in other words, I am considerably weaker than my dreams.

You are too.

Faced with a choice between dreaming and wakefulness, which of us wouldn’t choose dreaming? Faced with a choice between power and weakness, who wouldn’t choose power? Faced with a choice of being served or serving, which of us wouldn’t choose the former?

But in Mark 9.33–50, Jesus tells us that true greatness lies in serving others: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Notice that Jesus does not tell us not to seek greatness. His words are not a denial of greatness, but a redefinition of it. The greatest is the servant of all.

To become the greatest servant, we must do three things:

First, we must welcome the last, the lost and the least. “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Second, we must share the work. John complained, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” Jesus replied, “whoever is not against us is for us.” The disciples drew the circle of “us” tightly so that they—and they alone?—would be known as Jesus’ disciples. Jesus drew the circle loosely, welcoming the contributions of any and all who act “in my name.”

Third, we must strive for holiness. Jesus strongly warns against causing “these little ones who believe in me to sin.” Powerful people often ride roughshod over the weak. A servant, however, pays attention to others’ needs. To become a servant like Jesus, we must work to purify our hearts and clean up our acts.

Jesus, because he is the servant of all, is the greatest of all. Let us set aside our silly dreams and follow his example wide awake.

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