How to Lead in the Kingdom of God, Part 2
“But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.”
I ended yesterday’s reflection by wondering how it is possible for a leader to be a servant. Jesus said that “the leader should be like a servant” (22:26). But this almost seems to be a contradiction. Isn’t the leader the one who, among other things, exercises authority by telling people what to do? And isn’t the servant the one who takes orders? If so, does Jesus’ vision of servant leadership make any sense?
In order to answer these questions, we need to look at what follows Jesus’ directive that “the leader should be like the servant.” In the next verse he adds, “Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves” (22:27). Our translation adds a couple of nuances to make this passage understandable to us. In fact, the original Greek speaks of one who “reclines” at the table, because, in the first-century, that’s the posture people assumed when eating.
Moreover, the NLT adds the sentence, “But not here!” though it is absent from the original. This addition heightens the contrast between the cultural norm and the ways of the kingdom of God. Everyone in Jesus’ day knew that the one who was served had greater status than the one who served. Masters and their guests were more honored than servants. But not in the kingdom of God. The disciples with Jesus knew that he was by far the greatest among them. Yet, he said, “I am among you as one who serves.”
How did Jesus serve? We don’t have reason to believe that he actually served the food at the table of the Last Supper. Jesus was reclining along with his disciples as they shared a Passover meal. But, in the context of this meal, he spoke of his pending death, his pouring out of his life for the sake of others. As the Suffering Servant of God, the one whose suffering and death was predicted in Isaiah 52-53, Jesus would soon demonstrate the essence of true servanthood. It involved giving up one’s own advantage, one’s own benefits, and in Jesus’ case, his own life, for the sake of others. Thus, when Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves,” he was pointing ahead to his death, that would happen only a few hours after the Last Supper was completed.
Wherever you and I have positions of leadership—whether in the workplace or in our families, on the football field or in the choir booster club, in our churches or in our communities—we have the opportunity, in fact, the calling, to serve others in the mode of Jesus, who gave his life for us.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What might this mean in reality for you? How might you imitate Jesus’ self-giving servanthood in your workplace? In your family? In your community?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, ironically enough, you’ve set the bar pretty high here. You have called us to take the lowest rank. You have told us to be as servants. And then you pointed to your own servant, which we see most vividly in your death. This is a whole lot more costly than simply serving folks at a table.
Help me, dear Lord, to see where I can serve people in imitation of you. Show me how I can give of myself sacrificially for the sake of others. In particular, I ask that you help me to be a self-giving servant in the places of life where I am a leader. By your grace, may my heart be more and more the heart of a servant. Amen.