First Place

Mark 9:33-35 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Moving up requires stooping down.

Just the other day, I was doing my weekly grocery shopping and oh, what a sight. If you’ve been to the store recently, you understand. A shipment of toilet paper had come in, and before it could come out of boxes and onto shelves, people were grabbing packages. It was like Paper Product Black Friday. Fortunately, a friend had set me up with some spare rolls, so I merely watched the commotion. But then, I saw something else happen. A middle aged man had seen an elderly gentleman waiting on the edge of the crowd, afraid to get too close to people in the moment. Turning to the gentleman, he took the package he had just picked up, motioned to him as if to ask if that was what he needed, and then proceeded to toss it into the man’s shopping cart like a basketball. Score! The elderly man smiled. The middle aged man now had no TP, but that didn’t seem to matter.  He just walked away, disappearing into the snack food aisle.

Sometimes being a hero means giving away your toilet paper.

Isn’t it interesting that when we think of the people in our lives we look up to, it’s hardly ever because of what they’ve acquired, their prestige, power, position, or accomplishments? Isn’t it interesting that the people we admire the most are those who have given themselves away, to us and to others? Perhaps that’s a glimmer of God’s image in us, despite the fact that the world around us that pleads the contrary. After Jesus overhears the disciples’ conversation on the road, he pauses for a teaching moment. They had been jockeying for position in the earthly kingdom they were sure Jesus was going to establish at any moment. They also wrongly thought that they were far enough away that he couldn’t hear them. But Jesus uses this awkward moment to teach them something, and teach us something, about true spiritual greatness in God’s Kingdom. He begins by saying: “IF anyone wants to be first…,” implying that ambition, in and of itself, can be a good thing. Jesus wasn’t criticizing the desire to be first; rather he was carefully redefining what it meant to be first. Instead of stepping on the backs of others to get what you want, Jesus’ followers are to stoop down. In God’s Kingdom, we flip the script. In God’s Kingdom, serving comes first.

What job or duty do you think is below you? In this time of great need, who can you serve, where might you need to put others first? A “me-first,” prideful attitude has no place in God’s Kingdom. The road to spiritual greatness is never paved over the backs of other people but rather is built through bricks of humility, service, and grace.

After all, we follow the One who stooped down to us out of his relentless love for us.

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