And he said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves.”
Jesus was constantly driving the lesson home in His disciples of humble service. They were a thick-headed bunch. Right after the moment when Jesus turns the simple bread and wine tradition in Passover into a memorial practice for His followers to remember His great love, the disciples get into their regular argument. Once again they bicker over position, personal fame, and greatness.
Jesus uses a powerful contrast to get their attention. Any Jew in Jerusalem was well aware of how the leaders of the Gentiles exercised authority. Rome was in control of all the political and economic outcomes in the life of the Jewish nation. It was oppressive even as it was impressive. And the Gentiles forced their rule with military might and huge political muscle. They exalted “greatness”. Jesus was telling His men in simple terms: “Don’t be like Romans. Lead like me. Lead like a servant. Give up your life.”
It was at least mildly insulting for Jesus to get the attention of His disciples with this Gentile comparison. But it did focus on the problem of pride in a way they readily understood. And it brought their attention back to Him and off of themselves. Their bickering made them think like godless Gentiles. He wanted them to think like Him, in humble service. “…I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).
And the problem of self-promotion has not really been eradicated from Jesus’ followers. We still need to follow His example, heed His warnings, and avoid acting like the world around us. It is not easy. Many see leadership as the outcome and goal of discipleship. Although we need Christian leaders, I think they may have it all wrong. Service is the pinnacle of discipleship, not leadership alone. When I lose my identity in Christ, acting so much like Him that I naturally give myself away, then I have obeyed what He asked His disciples to do.