“But behold, the hand of the one betraying Me is with Mine on the table. For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!” And they began to discuss among themselves which one of them it might be who was going to do this thing. And there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves.” (Luke 22:21-27 NASB)
In Luke, after the inauguration of Communion, there are a lot of elements before the thirteen men leave for the Mount of Olives. I was going to skip to one of my favorites where Jesus addresses Peter’s later failure, but I think I’ll have an opportunity to get into that next week. For those who are not familiar with this blog’s use in my own life, this is where I process a Scripture passage I’m using in a Bible study I lead each Thursday. So, on Fridays, the passage jumps to the next. But I think I’ll be in the upper room for more than one week.
This passage is also a great one, particularly because it illustrates human nature so well. Jesus is overcome with grief over His betrayer that He reveals the existence of this man. We, from reading so far, already know it’s Judas. The disciples don’t know that yet. And they begin to discuss which one of them it might be. This discussion then devolves into an argument about which of them is the greatest. That’s the basic framework in which Jesus says some pretty amazing things.
Have you ever wondered if there was hope for Judas? In a previous post, I discuss Judas in some detail, and I refer to what Jesus says here. Jesus admits that the cross is necessary, and that betrayal is part of how He gets there, but He also condemns the betrayer. Think about that. Judas is integral to the plan of God, the God he is betraying. Jesus makes clear that where He is going “…has been determined…”, but that does not exonerate His betrayer. As I said in that post, I still believe, Judas was never really a disciple, he was an opportunist.
Now, the second element here, where the disciples’ discussion of which one of them might betray Jesus devolving into an argument about greatness, keep in mind that Luke gets this from a disciple who was there. What I mean is that, while we think of Paul being Luke’s source, that’s really not possible. Luke is a “close associate” of Paul, and that gains him entrance into the canon. But Paul wasn’t Luke’s source. Rather Luke’s source was also in Jerusalem, like the other sources, and Paul gained Luke access to those sources. My point is that this account doesn’t put the disciples in a great light, but they “told on themselves”, so I believe it. Which, by the way, is a consistent feature in both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Both bodies of writing bring out weaknesses of the exemplary characters.
Jesus corrects them with familiar words, used in other places in Matthew and Mark, and resonating vaguely with John’s 3-chapter account in his Gospel. If you think through what Jesus says, there are some interesting elements unique to Luke in this. First off, the greatest is as the youngest. Jesus doesn’t point to a child and a different word is used here tan for “child” or even “young man” or “infant”. Instead Jesus refers to status among adults. The “youngest” would be the less experienced, and therefore the least wise, regarded with less honor than the “elders”. So, Jesus is saying the “elders” (as in the role of elder as leader) are to become as the youngsters, seeking less honor or esteem. I’m an elder in my church, and this is for me and my fellows. This is for us, and we need to heed this or fail our church. Ouch. Okay, moving on…with crushed toes.
The point to all of this is that we too struggle in the midst of important movements of God. We miss the point, the importance of the event, the cosmic battle raging around us, and the historic spiritual change about to happen. God prepares to knock the world on its head, and we’re arguing over carpet, curtains, pews versus chairs, or whether we like sister so-and-so. We do that. It might not be chairs, curtains, or carpet, but we do that. We miss the cosmic spiritual event rising to crescendo because of the earthly physical distraction. We go there. It can’t be my failure because, well, I’m not like that, I’m great! The wheels have fallen off, the train derails, and the catastrophe is just a matter of inertia.
But the alternative exists. Jesus says that we are to be different. He says He was at the table as one who serves. Luke doesn’t say how, but John does. Jesus began the evening washing their feet. His point is that those who lead wash feet. The greatest among their fellow disciples serve with a towel around their waist and a water basin in hand. In a sense, the elders clean toilets. They mix it up with people, willing to descend into their messy lives, and bring hope and healing. It’s Jesus’ directive for every leader, including you.
What’s your view through your knothole this morning?