It is all too easy to start out with love and end up with ambition, to start out in a rush of admiration and conviction, putting everything else aside for the sake of the one in whom you had glimpsed, in that transcendent moment, the glory of God, but then you let other motives intrude. They had been there then, on that day, by the Sea of Galilee, engrossed in their mundane tasks when He had come to them (to them!!!!) and told them to cast aside their nets, and follow Him, and He would make them “Fishers of Men.” They weren’t quite sure what that meant, what that could mean, but there was a hard, bright glory in those words, and something about Him that was different to every other man they had ever met.
Of course it wasn’t easy being the disciples of an itinerant preacher with no home of His own, and they were very aware of the things that they had given up for His sake, but His words were like springs of living water, and the signs and the wonders He performed turned their whole world inside out. He confused them and sometimes annoyed them, expecting and proclaiming impossibilities, but they would no more have forsaken Him than they would have forsaken their own beating hearts. And gradually their confidence grew.
He talked a lot about the “kingdom”, and since by then they believed Him to be the promised Messiah, it was inevitable that eventually they would start to speculate what their own role in this coming kingdom might be. Obviously, as His first disciples, they would be very, very important, but how would that work? Some would obviously be more important than others, and, since Jesus said nothing on the subject, they wondered how this would be decided. Of course, being human, they each started marshalling their arguments to support their own case:
“Well, I believed in Him first.”
“I have cast out demons in His name.”
“I was with Him when …”
Tensions escalated, grumblings increased. Each of them had a secret dream of being the one in charge, His right hand man, a person of great glory. Each of them made his own case for superiority over the others. Things were starting to get tense. In the end they had to ask Jesus, they had to resolve this. “Which of us is the greatest?” they asked.
He took His time. He looked each of them in the eye in that uncomfortable way He had that made each of them feel that the secret thoughts of their hearts were not as glorious as they had imagined, but actually rather shabby and shoddy. They stood there, almost shuffling their feet with awkwardness. Somehow the question, which had seemed so urgent a moment before, now seemed rather silly.
Then Jesus turned away from them and called a little child to come over and stand with them. What was He about? Jesus looked at them, looked at the child, and then back at them again. “I tell you,” He said, “unless you change, unless you give up your hunger for power and position, and become a nobody, like a small child, and humble yourselves, you haven’t begun to understand my Kingdom. Whoever is willing to let go of power, and pride and prestige, he is the greatest in the Kingdom.”