The Last will be First
Before my eyes the words of Jesus were being acted out.
We were guests at our friend's wedding. The bride was English and the groom, Iranian, so the event was a fusion of different cultures and styles.
When a respected pastor and his wife, the Iranian usher naturally led them to the seats of honour on the front row. The English ushers were nonplussed as the front few rows are reserved for the family of bride and groom in a British wedding. One of them had to ask them to move, thus shaming the couple that should have been honoured. This was more than embarrassment. This was shame but unlike the story below, wasn't the mistake of the guests.
When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.
If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place.
But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests.
For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 14 v 7-11 (NIV)
I'm not sure that as an English woman I fully understand shame-honour cultures. For shame I think about people like Jimmy Saville and for honour, the Queen, who is a remarkable woman, but in the Middle East it is part of the air that is breathed.
Who is the greatest?
But when we read about the disciples arguing about who is the greatest, it's easy to understand, because this is human nature which is the same, whatever your culture.
Jesus models a different way of life, because he is more than human: fully God and fully man. He shows us what the divine nature is like.
Jesus is the Lord of All and yet he washed his disciples feet, the job of a slave in Roman culture. He is the Author of Life, and yet he accepted death for our sake. He was humble and gentle, even though he is Almighty God.
When James and John's mother asked for her sons to sit in the places of honour on the right and left of Jesus in His Kingdom, the other disciples were furious:
When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave
- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20 v 24-28 (NIV)
So in the church, the leaders are called to be servants, or even slaves. Ministry teams are formed to serve. Naturally we should honour and respect such men and women, but it is not their right to demand this.
The Kingdom of Heaven is radical.
It is counter cultural throughout the world.
It is alternative.
Who is the greatest among us?
An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest.
Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him.
Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Luke 9 v 46-48 (NIV)
So the last will be first, and the first will be last
Let's finish with a classic.