I think I may have pontificated about this topic before, but I am amazed at this scene.
So, Jesus and the disciples are celebrating the Passover – the Last Supper. Jesus serves the first communion and talks about giving his body and shedding his blood for them.
Then Jesus says, “Behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes at it has been determined…” (Luke 22: 23)
So Jesus is obliquely (to the disciples) talking about his death and betrayal. And here’s what follows:
And they [the disciples] began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Luke 22: 23-24
Really? I mean, really?
Let me get this straight. Jesus has just predicted his betrayal. And these guys go from asking which of them it might be to arguing about which of them was the greatest?
I can’t get my head around this. I’m trying to imagine being in this situation and doing the same thing.
Maybe the conversation started like this, “Hey, did you do it?” and the response, “Why would I? I know that Jesus has picked me for a big job in His kingdom. Why would I throw that away?”
But in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels, they each ask, “Is it I?” That sounds a bit more introspective, not so finger-pointy. But then, how did the conversation devolve into this dispute about greatness? I mean, that sounds like something 12 year olds would do!
Can you imagine how they felt AFTER the resurrection? When they realized what the Last Supper was all about? When they remembered how they had acted just after Jesus talked about the new covenant made in His blood??
Bet they were humbled!
Back to the dispute. Apparently seating arrangements at banquets were a big deal in Jesus’ time. Those seated closest to the host were the “greatest.” So maybe they were using the seating arrangement to discern first who the betrayer might be, and then to prove why some would clearly not betray.
All in all, it’s a fine mess.
And Jesus takes the opportunity to remind the disciples that His kingdom isn’t about who is greatest:
…the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. Luke 22: 26b-27
I love that Jesus said this – and we know from John’s Gospel that He served the disciples by washing their feet during this supper.
But I also love that Jesus used almost the exact phrasing when He talked about the reward for those prepared for His return earlier in Luke:
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. Luke 12: 37
I’d never thought about Jesus’ service as a reward before, so I blogged about it here.
Well, next time I think about arguing who’s greater, I’ll remember this passage! And Jesus’ teaching!
Dear Lord: I know that I am just like the disciples. But in this passage, I’m still stumped that grown men would actually argue about who’s greater. In some way, I bet I do the same. So, next time I do, will You show me – and then remind me of your teaching on service. Amen.