25 August 2014

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. 26)


Can you name all twelve of Jesus' chosen disciples? In today's passage, they're having an argument about who is the greatest among them. Just an ordinary day, you might think, with this group of young men showing their natural competitive tendencies! Actually, it wasn't an ordinary day; it was the night of the Last Supper. It was the supper Jesus' had longed to share with his closest friends and follower, when he would have the last opportunity to teach them what it was all about. And they're arguing among themselves!

When you look back to the previous few verses, it's easy to see how the argument would start (Luke 22:21-23). Jesus says one of them will betray him. "Not me, Jesus!" "I'd never betray you!" "Come on, who would then?" "Well, certainly not me - I've been there through thick and thin - I'm not going to bail out now." And so it goes on. One by one they'd compare their credentials as to why they wouldn't betray their Lord. Until, before you knew it, they would move on to the great discipleship league-table!

So who was the greatest? There was Simon Peter, obviously the leader who Jesus had a special role for (see yesterday's passage). There was his brother Andrew, one of the first, who actually led Peter to Jesus. Then John, who turns out to be the one Jesus had a special affection for. There was James his brother, again there from the start, and one of the inner circle. There was Thomas, always outspoken and not afraid to ask the difficult questions. And Matthew, the former tax-collector turned Gospel-writer. Mary Magdalene would later have a greater claim than most, being the 'apostle to the Apostles' who first told the men about the Resurrection. But, in the end, like so much of our squabbling in the Church today, it's a pointless and futile argument. Each is called for a reason, and each is gifted with a special role in God's kingdom. Jesus points them to the real truth: and it's him right there among them - the servant-king; the one who is truly great, making himself least of all, for their sake. This is the sort of greatness we all need to aspire to.

One of the disciples who wouldn't be near the top of anyone's list is Bartholomew. And yet this reading was chosen for his feast day today. Why? Perhaps because he wasn't the greatest and didn't claim to be. Perhaps because he was one of the unspoken apostles, who simply played his part. There are no stories for Bartholomew, apart from the traditional (and often gruesome) tales of how he was martyred spreading the gospel. He may have indeed been Nathanael (John 1:43-51, John 21:2), as some claim. But all we know for sure is that he was called to be one of the Twelve, and (despite abandoning Jesus like they all did on Maundy Thursday) was there to witness the Ascension and received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The rest of the time, we can assume, he just went about doing what God required of him. God's reward for him? A throne in his kingdom judging one of the tribes of Israel. Not bad at all!

To Ponder

  • Who are the ones in your church or community who make no claims to greatness but go about doing their job and serving others? What do you think their reward will be from God? (And how could you show your appreciation to them now?)
  • What do you know about St Bartholomew? See what you can find out.
  • We live in a culture that praises 'leadership' and 'executive power' and likes to rank people and put people on a pedestal. What does Jesus have to say to our attitudes about power and greatness?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!