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Who's the Greatest?

The scene is Jerusalem; the time, nearly two thousand years ago.

By the time of this story, Jesus had attracted a number of followers, and Jesus and his followers has all come to Jerusalem, the capital city of a place called Judea. Jesus has been preaching and talking to people about justice and love. One of the things Jesus does is to go straight to the main Temple every day for most of a week. This was back in the day when Jews still had a central Temple.

Jesus preaches and teaches people right in the Temple. Some of the priests in charge of the Temple are having a hard time figuring out this unknown rabbi from some little town out in the middle of nowhere. Some of what Jesus is saying sounds like it might make the government angry, and they knew if the government of Judea gets angry, there's a good chance they're going to start killing people. What Jesus is doing feels a little dangerous.

A few days after Jesus and his followers come into Jerusalem, it is time to celebrate Pesach, or Passover. Jesus, being a good observant Jew, wants to have a Seder (or Passover celebration). Jesus knows someone in Jerusalem who has a second floor apartment that's big enough for him and his twelve closest followers, and maybe one or two others. They decide that is where they will go to have their Seder.

As the day goes by, Jesus hears some rumors that he is going to be arrested. Certain unpleasant people in the government heard what Jesus is saying in the Temple. It sounds to these unpleasant people as if Jesus is calling for the overthrow of the government in Judea. Jesus hears that he is certainly going to be arrested, because one of his followers is going to turn him over to the military police. But no one knows what is going to happen to him after he gets arrested. He could even be charged with treasonous acts, which would mean the death penalty! Needless to say, Jesus is a little bit worried by these rumors.

That evening, Jesus and his followers in that second floor apartment to celebrate the Seder. After Jesus has finished leading the Seder, he tells them that he heard that one of them is planning to turn him over to the military police. Of course no one admits to that.

One of the followers says (in effect) "Hey, come on, which one of us would do THAT?"

All the followers begin to argue among themselves about which of them could possibly be so mean as to turn Jesus over to the military police.

One of them probably says something like this: "I'm such a great guy, no way would I betray Jesus; in fact, I'm the greatest out of all of you guys."

Another one of the followers says something like, "What do you mean, you're the greatest? No way are you the greatest, I'm the greatest!"

The argument spreads, so soon they're all sitting there arguing about who's the greatest. At least, that's the way I picture it in my mind.

In my opinion, this is a stupid time for Jesus' followers to get into an argument about who's the greatest. I mean, Jesus is about to be arrested! He could be put to death! Shouldn't they be trying to figure out who is going to turn Jesus over to the military police? I really get the impression that these followers of Jesus are a little bit clueless.

Finally, Jesus gets involved in the argument. He says something like this: "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they make it clear who is the greatest... But this can not be true for you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like the least or the youngest. The leader among you must become like one who serves."

Jesus goes on to say, "When you see someone who gets to sit at the table and be served by someone else, who do you think is greater, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? You probably think it's the one who sits at the table, don't you? But," Jesus says, "I always try to act like someone who serves at the table, not like someone who sits at the table."


That's pretty much the end of the story. Different people have different ways of understanding this story, and you'll have to figure it out for yourself. But I'll give you my opinion about what the story means.

In my opinion, many people have misinterpreted this story. I think maybe the story is trying to tell us that most people want to be the ones who sit down at the table and have other people do everything for them. But the greatest people are people who serve others, people who try to make the world a better place. That's what I think the story means. As always I could be wrong, and maybe you have your own idea of what the story means.

Source: Mark 14.12-20.