46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Luke 9:46-48
Just before this text Jesus announces for the second time that he is going to die. We see such a contrast between Jesus and his disciples: While Jesus was preparing himself and his disciples for his death, the disciples were thinking of who is the greatest among them. That very same argument came up as well right before Jesus was going to the cross, at the last supper (Luke 22:24), where Jesus washes the disciples feed and is getting ready to die for them. In Jesus, God became a human to show us the way of how God rules: by loving us and giving himself for us. This is so completely different from how we humans understand power and leadership: we are used to leaders who sacrifice people below them to get greater themselves. But Jesus, the King of Kings, is different: HE gives himself so that we can have life. It`s the “upside down” kingdom. It`s the “crucified mind” of Jesus who is leading and getting power in a “cruciform” way. As Jesus wants his disciples to be future leaders of HIS “upside down” kingdom, Jesus is challenging his disciples by saying that the greatest of them would be the one who takes care of the most vulnerable and weakest of society: little children.
We probably don`t quite ask as straight as the disciples did: “Who is the greatest among us?”. But be it in our relationship with our spouse, at school, at our working place or also at church: we all have this deep desire to see ourselves (more) valued then others. And as the disciples we do have this fear that we won`t get the place or space we deserve. Jesus is inviting not only his disciples but also us into a completely new way of thinking: the one who is the greatest is the one who has his/her identity so secured in God`s love that he/she loves to help the weakest, the one who cannot repay him/her. In Matthew 18:3 Jesus said “unless you become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. Jesus is challenging us to build our own identity not on our own greatness but on God`s love. Just as a little child doesn`t take his identity from his own achievements but from his parent’s love, so we are called to serve others not by trying to establish our identity through our service, but by serving because our identity is unchanged and secured in God`s love for us.
Jesus, thank you for your love for each one of us. Please forgive me when I serve others hoping to be praised and have my identity established by what I do. Help me to do all I do powered by your love. Help me to love and serve others not for my own sake but because you have loved me first and therefore my identity is firmly established and safe in your love no matter if people praise me or not.