A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves. You are those who have stood by me in my trials. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
So there they are, sitting around the table at the Last Supper arguing over who might be the traitor, and which one of them is the greatest. I’m sure that later on they would have agreed that none was looking all that great at that moment. Jesus poured cold water on their delusions of grandeur: The greatest is the one who looks like a lowly servant.
From a purely earthly viewpoint, this seems like hogwash; what’s so great about a servant?
For me, the key to understanding this came when Jesus told them that God had conferred the Kingdom upon Jesus, and Jesus is conferring it upon the apostles. We are near the end of Luke’s narrative concerning the life of Jesus: Did He ever act like a grand king? No, He always deported Himself as a servant, the servant of all. At that very hour, He was only a very short time away from allowing Himself to be captured by evil men and put to death in the service of His Father. This is hardly something that the great ones of human culture would usually consent to doing.
While the disciples/apostles wouldn’t quite get the point that night and the next day, it wouldn’t be long before they did understand His teaching, with the aid of the Holy Spirit. For when the Kingdom came at Pentecost, just a few weeks hence, they would be God’s humble servants; when the Kingdom comes in its fullness when Christ returns, they will be seated upon thrones judging the 12 Tribes of Israel.
We face the same challenge of understanding today. How often we see people in the kingdom who put themselves forward as great to the adulation of many. Seldom however, do we notice the truly great as they serve in humility.