24 August 2013

Luke 22:24-30

“But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.” (v. 36)


Today, we move from the heavenly throne-room in the Book of Revelation to the scene of the Last Supper as Luke's Gospel describes it. As we do so, we may find a clue to the question of what connects the Church on earth with the Church in heaven. Here, Jesus rebukes his disciples for imagining that there is any route to a share in his kingdom except through service. The disciples found their contemporary models of leadership too seductive; they could not resist playing power-games even as they followed Jesus on his way to the cross. This was in spite of the example Jesus had just shown. In John's Gospel we see Jesus giving an example of service by washing the disciples' feet during the evening just before his betrayal (John 13:1-15). Here, Jesus is the one who has just served them with the broken bread and the poured-out cup of wine and now he tells them in no uncertain terms that they need to follow his way of leadership through selfless service. Service - the word is 'diakonos', from which we get the word 'deacon' - is the hallmark of Jesus-shaped ministry. Yet still the disciples don't 'get it'. In a few hours' time, Jesus will have submitted himself to arrest and to the abuse of those in power and most of the disciples will have scattered. Even Peter will find himself too cowed by the powers around him to allow himself to be called the disciple of Jesus (Luke 22:54-62).

Luke, as he shapes the story of Jesus for his Gospel, would certainly have been aware of the challenges already facing new Christian communities. Then, as throughout Church history, Christians found it hard not to imitate the power-structures that surrounded them rather than follow the example of Jesus. Today is St Bartholomew's Day and this is the Gospel reading to be read in many churches as they remember him. Bartholomew appears in the list of disciples in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, but we only hear of his later life through legends. Perhaps his very obscurity in the story of Jesus and the early Church is a sign that he, at least, did not grasp at a leadership role but led a life of quiet service.

To Ponder

  • Which models of leadership are most seductive in your context? How do they compare with the example given by Jesus?
  • What would it mean for you to follow the words of Jesus in a life of radical service?
  • Become aware of those you have known who have led through their service of others. 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.