Welcome to The Morning Watch! It has been some time since I wrote this blog. So like a TV series starting a new season, let me catch you up. What you’ll find here will be a series of references, followed by the text of one of them, followed by a brief explanation of the text. On days when I write, the texts are the Daily Office Lectionary of the Book of Common Prayer. If welcome your comments at any time.
2 Thess. 2:13-3:5
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest.
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. 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.
“You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. (Luke 22:24-30) ESV
“Where’s my kingdom?!” Does that ever sound selfish. And of course, it is.
Can you imagine an argument about position at the Last Supper? After all they had experienced together, after all the times Jesus had talked to them about the Kingdom of God (over 30 recorded in Luke’s gospel), you would think by now they’d have a clue as to where true power lies. But they don’t. And neither do we.
This kind of dispute comes up in nearly every church over and over. On the one hand, you hear people complain that the same people are perennially in leadership. They become targets for sniping from the masses – well, the rest of the group at least. Most of us aren’t part of a church where the attendance figures would suggest “masses”. The side-liners want church served to them on a silver platter. They don’t want to plan the events or lead the Bible studies or (worst of all) set up chairs and tables. Those folks aren’t even in the room when Jesus is talking here in Luke 22.
The people Jesus is speaking to here are “those who have stayed with me in my trials.” They are, in fact, the “same people…perennially in leadership.” In any church you will find a group of 10-20 people who are the worker bees. And those are the folks who are asking the question, “Where’s my kingdom?”
If your church is looking for real leaders, Jesus’ recommendation to you is not to necessarily look to the people with their hands up volunteering to be Elders, Deacons or Council members. Those folks may have a real interest in serving, but may also like the idea of a title. As Lucy van Pelt once said to Charlie Brown, “I’m going to be the biggest queen there ever was.”
Jesus takes care of the issue by drawing the greatest contrast possible. You want to be a benefactor (the guy handing out patronage jobs)? Become a little child (someone totally disenfranchised). You want to be a leader? Serve. The world looks at waiters and waitresses as “hired help.” When we go to a restaurant we are play-acting what it would be like to have butlers and maids. But Jesus is saying that kind of class distinction is upside down where the Kingdom of God is concerned. It turns out the butler is the great leader because what he is doing is a picture of the gospel. God’s own Son (the heir – the lord of the house) gave his own life in order to serve the serfs.
Only after he has put things in their proper place can he tell his disciples the really important thing: he is giving us a kingdom. In Matthew 28 he says the same, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” We’re being handed the authority of kingship. And yet, what king gets down in the water of a muddy river and washes his subjects?
If you want the perks of being a king (getting to recline at table and judge even the Patriarchs of Israel) in Jesus’ kingdom, you too will joyously run down into the river and baptize all who will come in the Name of the One who himself got down in the muck and washed you.