By Jim Wehner It is during the final meal, as Jesus shares the cup and bread, that a disagreement breaks out among the disciples around the table (Luke 22:24). It is not a new conversation. We read about it many times in the Gospel accounts.
The disciples are locked in an ongoing battle of who is the greatest among them. Is it Peter who has the charismatic personality? Or should it be John, the disciple closest to Jesus? Philip will emerge a strong evangelist when we read about his exploits in the book of Acts.
Twelve strong men. Three years of training under this Rabbi. They are ready.
If you were leading this group of learners, how would you instill leadership? What image might you give them that would shape their future as leaders?
“It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” John 13:1 NIV
It is a funny way to describe the leadership of someone in authority. He chose to love them to the end. This being the famous last supper with his disciples, we could easily get distracted with all that is going on. After all, we have read the end of the story already. But I am still thinking about this ongoing “greatest leader” debate.
This love that Jesus showed includes the washing of the disciples’ feet, even the feet of the one that would betray him. The simple act of washing feet was normal enough. This was a common courtesy offered to travelers. However, it was a job for the servants not the Rabbi!
Peter was offended and spoke against this madness, but Jesus calmed him and required his participation. When it was finished, Jesus completed this love lesson with a statement:
“Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” John 13:12-17 NIV
The ongoing battle of greatness would not be won by vying for position. I am sure it took years for the disciples to gain a full perspective of what this simple act meant. If you are sliding up next to Jesus as though your position will gain you greatness, you will soon be disappointed. “The world,” Jesus says, “will hate you because it hates me” (John 15:18 NIV).
Jesus was calling them to a different kind of leadership.
Even in ministry, competing for position can happen. As your leadership matures, do you sense a growing desire to serve others? Do you make the choice to love instead of the choice to compete? As we seek to follow Jesus’ example of a different kind of leadership, let us welcome moments where we can serve those around us.