Bible Reading: Matthew 20
Matthew 20:25-28, “But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’.”
The book, Hope for the Flowers, is a children’s novel first published in 1972 by Trina Paulus. It tells the story of Yellow and Stripe, two caterpillars who search for meaning by attempting to climb to the top of a caterpillar pillar, only to eventually discover another destiny. Stripe begins his life by eating the leaf he was born on, but then realizes that there must be more to life than just eating leaves. He yearns for a way to get up to the sky and ultimately finds himself at the base of a pillar made up of caterpillars. They are all struggling to get up to the sky also, stepping over each other along the way. Though the top of the pillar is shrouded by a cloud, they all climb. Stripe meets Yellow, who feels bad about what must be done to reach the top—stepping on and climbing over others—so the two retreat back down the pillar. Stripe and Yellow live happily together for a while, but Stripe’s curiosity compels him to return to the pillar and attempt to reach the top. Stripe says goodbye to Yellow. He focuses and, with much effort, finally makes it to where he can see the top of the pillar. Shockingly, he realizes that there’s no doorway to the sky and instead the caterpillars are driven from the top over the side, where they then fall to the depths below. Yellow, however, following her better instincts, continues to eat and then spins a cocoon. She eventually emerges from the cocoon, transformed into a butterfly, and flies effortlessly into the sky. Stripe returns and Yellow reveals the empty cocoon that birthed her anew. He then realizes what he needs to do. He makes a cocoon. Yellow waits for him until he too emerges as a butterfly, and they fly off together. In the pursuit of success and meaning, most in this world are prone to climb such a pillar. But there is a better way…
Jesus had just reaffirmed to his disciples His future destiny. He was to be delivered up, condemned, abused, and crucified. Three days later, He would be raised up (Matthew 20:17-19). It was “then (that) the mother of the sons of Zebedee” came to Him with her request: “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left” (Matthew 20:20-21).
The question and Jesus’ response led to a discussion regarding Christ’s future suffering and the ability of the two sons to endure the same. That discussion then caused the other ten disciples to become indignant with the two (Matthew 20:24). This was not the only instance in which the disciples disagreed about such matters. On a day to come, after Jesus had washed their feet and shared the last supper with them (partaking together of elements symbolic of His future sacrifice), “there arose also a dispute among them as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (John 13:5-15; Luke 22:15-22). While their leader was making His way down (to suffer on the cross), they were arguing as to who was to be on top!
The world has its own definition of greatness. It highly esteems the rich and powerful. Famous movie stars; great athletes; powerful politicians; multi-billionaires–they are deemed “great” by this world. And the desire for greatness lies in heart of man. The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life are ever active and yearning for more. It’s a “dog eat dog” world, and according to the world’s way of thinking, it is okay to do whatever it takes (“to eat whomever you have to eat”) in order to make one’s way to the top. To be “king of the hill” is what matters. The disciples had some of that in them. Jesus speaks of dying on a cross. The disciples argue over who is the greatest. Jesus washes their feet. They kick dirt at each other.
Jesus differentiated between the two different ways by which greatness is defined. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). The rulers of the Gentiles “lord” it over them. The word translated “lord,” means “to bring under one’s power, to subject one’s self, to subdue, to master.” That is the role that the world esteems. To be a position to be able to tell others what to do; to boss them around; to be served—that is what most people yearn for.
“It is not so among you.” God’s way is different than the man’s. The world esteems the master. God esteems the servant. If you want to be great, as God defines greatness, then you must learn to serve. Jesus exemplified servanthood. He walked on an alternative and better path. We have been called to “follow in His steps” (1 Peter 2:21). At a later date, all of the disciples, except Judas, would undergo a Spirit-empowered transformation. And, by the Spirit, they were then led to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. They became “great” not by aspiring to greatness, but by living a life of self-sacrifice. They ultimately realized that which Jesus taught them—the way up is down.
A humble attitude that is exemplified in a readiness to serve others is highly esteemed by God (Philippians 2:3-11). The song says, “If you want to be great in God’s Kingdom learn to be the servant of all.” A lot of voices out there say otherwise, so let’s be careful to not be deceived or dissuaded. The way up is down.
There is a sinful, self-serving way to this world in which men are driven by various lusts to pursue fame and fortune at all costs. Stepping over one another in the search for meaning and purpose, we are prone to behave in hurtful ways that sometimes offend even those whom we love. We can be like those caterpillars on that caterpillar pillar—striving for success on a path that leads to destruction. But Jesus has marked out a better path. In dying to self, we find true life in Him. We can be born again of His love to a life in which we find true purpose and meaning. The way up is down. That’s the path Jesus took.
The world is enamored with fame and fortune and equates such things with greatness and success. In God’s economy true greatness is measured in terms of humility and servanthood.
Make me a servant
Humble and meek
Lord let me lift up
Those who are weak
And may the prayer
Of my heart always be
Make me a servant
Make me a servant
Make me a servant today