Servant of All
In the name of the Father, and of the † Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
On His Mind
Jesus and his disciples were heading home to Capernaum. The disciples had followed Jesus from town to town. They heard him teach about the kingdom of God and watched him heal the sick. It was time for Jesus to speak to his disciples alone.
Jesus wanted them to know what to expect next. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
Jesus wanted them to be prepared of the time when he would suffer, die, and then rise from the dead. The disciples did not understand what Jesus told them. They were afraid to ask him any questions.
It would be a long walk home. The disciples would have time to think about what Jesus said. They could talk about his words and what they meant. When they reached home perhaps they could ask him more about this difficult teaching.
On Their Minds
When they came to Capernaum, Jesus asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” “They kept silent.” The disciples had not been discussing what Jesus had taught them. They were not discussing what it meant that Jesus must suffer, die and then be raised from the dead.
The disciples had not tried to connect these words of Jesus with his teaching about repentance and forgiveness. They did not consider the words of the prophet Isaiah who wrote about a servant who would be “wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities.”
The furthest thing from their minds was Isaiah’s indictment of us all, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned – ever one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus had taught them, “I am the good shepherd. … I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Instead of thinking on these things, the disciples had something else on their minds. On their way they had been arguing about whom among them was the greatest.
It was not enough that Jesus had chosen them to follow him and to teach them about the kingdom of God. They were interested in their own greatness, their own place of honor in the world or at least in the church.
What a contrast between Jesus and his disciples. The disciples were concentrating on themselves they were looking for greatness. With greatness comes people treating you in special ways and doing things for you. Seeking greatness comes with a desire to be recognized and a desire to be served by others.
Jesus too was concentrating on the disciples. He was concentrating on them and on all people who seek after greatness. He was concerned for all people who think about how great it would be to be great in the eyes of others.
Jesus was thinking not of his own greatness but of what he needed to do to save those who selfishly want to be served at the cost of someone else. Jesus was the Son of Man who could claim greatness and demand people serve him but who came to serve not to be served.
What a contrast, Jesus the great high priest, is telling his disciples that he will become the Lamb of God who will sacrifice himself for them and for the world. His disciples on the other had are telling each other that they want to be the greatest. Sacrificing themselves for others was not in their minds at all.
A Servant of All
Jesus sat down and gathered his disciples around him. He has gathered you as well to hear his words. He wants you to hear what he has done for you. Jesus says, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
Not only does Jesus use words to teach his disciples, he shows them what he means. “He took a child and put him in the midst of them, and ‘taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever received one such child in my name received me.”
Jesus took a helpless child into his arms. This child needed to be served in every way – feed, clothed, diapers changed, held, comforted, and moved from place to place. Caring for a helpless child is about putting your own needs on a shelf. It is about placing your needs last and the child’s needs first.
This is what Christ calls Christians to do, not just for helpless children, but for all people who are helpless to take care of their own needs. We are to put ourselves last and the needs of our neighbors first. We are not to seek after our own greatness.
“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.” Jesus is saying, “Whoever serves a neighbor in need because they believe in Me, serves Me.” In a similar way Jesus spoke about giving food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the prisoner.
Jesus said, “When you do it to one of the least you do it to me.” Mt. 25 Seeing the needs of others is seeing whose whom Christ see. Serving our neighbor is sign of our faith in the One who served us.
Who Are These Needy?
Who are these needy people? Why does Jesus identify himself with them? Let me tell you who they are. These needy and helpless people are the ones who Christ came to save. They are the ones for whom he became a servant. These are the ones for whom Jesus Christ hung on the cross and for whom he suffered and died.
What a different way to look at people, to see them as God sees them, to see them as needing to be served by him. The Son of God came to redeem the lost and condemned, he came to wipe away their sins, he came to give them a new life. Jesus Christ put himself last, he sacrificed himself for these people.
But how can we possibly put ourselves last all the time and with every person we meet? It seems impossible that we can always receive others and care for their needs before we care for ourselves. In fact we all too often are the people that Saint James describes in today’s epistle lesson – people whose jealousy and selfish ambition leads to disorder and every vile practice, people who coveting leads to fighting and quarreling.
Who Are You?
Yes, like the disciples, we are people who argue over who is the greatest among us. Yet we are also people for whom Christ became a servant. While Christ asks you to see and help the needy and helpless, he sees you and your needs. He sees your helplessness.
When Jesus said he, “must be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise,” he was talking about what he would do for you. He did that for you, he placed himself last. Jesus served you by taking upon himself all your sins.
Jesus has picked you up in his arms and made you his own. He gives you his love. When you confess your sins he comforts you with words of forgiveness. When you fail to serve those in need he teaches you how to love.
When you consider yourself better than others he shows you what it cost him to redeem you from your sins.
You are the helpless child in Christ’s arms. He is the one who came to earth for you. He spread his arms out for you on the cross. Jesus washes away your sins and makes you clean in the water baptism. In baptism we died with Christ and have been given a new life.
Jesus feeds you with his very body and blood. In that meal you receive the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of your faith. “Take and eat,” he says to you. “Take and drink,” he says to you. “I have given my body and shed my blood for you,” Jesus tells you each time you come to the Lord’s Table.
As you hear him speak to you in his Holy Word, you are given peace. Your conscience is freed from the accusations of the law. You are freed from the sentence of death.
Because you are helpless to save yourself from you sins, Jesus became the helpless one who suffered and died on the cross for you. He became the last, the one on whom your sins were placed. Through him you have been made a precious child of God.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
Soli Deo Gloria