Mark 10:42 – And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus has predicted his death for the third time, and for the third time He follows up that prediction by highlighting the ramifications for His followers. Here, the thought runs: if God solves the problem of divine justice on human sin by the royal Son of Man giving up his life as a ransom: being mocked and spit upon and flogged and killed – then what does that do to our concept of leadership?
If the Master came not to be served, but to serve, then surely His followers must follow: they should embrace a similar idea of how authority … of handling the tools of power.. works – the way of serving.
Here’s what that doesn’t look like: It shall not be so among you – what shall not be so: a) lording it over those with less advantage 2) exercising authority i.e., bossiness as the feature of your leadership.
Rather whoever would be great among you – and there’s nothing wrong with that aspiration – must be your servant and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. The ambition to be great must be outfitted in committed service to the well-being of others without regard to status. The first among us are those who put themselves second and third and last.
John 13 has Jesus rising from dinner and washing the disciples feet – to get their feet clean and to set an example for us. John draws out a detail: He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. I’m wearing a striped plaid shirt – thanks Mom! Underneath this plaid shirt is my white t-shirt. No one else is wearing my striped plaid shirt – it helps to distinguish me. But there are a lot of us wearing a white t-shirt. Take off the plaid shirt and I lose some uniqueness.
And then onto that indistinguishable garb that renders him unremarkable, Jesus ties the towel around his waist – he deliberately takes the look of a nameless foot-scrubber, not to be confused with anyone interesting, forward looking, etc. And then the “anonymous servant” gets to work on those toes.
Most footwashing in the ancient world was a menial task. It involved washing off not just dust and mud but also the remains of human excrement (which was tipped out of houses into the streets) and animal waste (which was left on country roads and town streets). The task of doing this as an act of hospitality to honor guests was therefore normally assigned to slaves or servant or low status, particularly females, so much so that footwashing was virtually synonymous with slavery…What makes the Fourth Gospel’s account so extraordinary is that there is no parallel in extant ancient literature for a person of superior status voluntarily washing the feet of someone of inferior status. Jesus’ act therefore represents an assault on the usual notions of social hierarchy, a subversion of the normal categories of honor and shame….It is not just an honored teacher who is performing a shameful act but a divine figure with sovereignty over the cosmos who has taken on the role of a slave. – Andrew Lincoln
So we are given the concept of servant leadership in our Mark passage, and we’re given a vivid picture of that in John 13. Now I’d like to point out some of the details of what this cruciform leadership looks like:
- 1 Peter 5:3 – Elders are to shepherd the flock of God that is among you…not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. Forceful personalities, charm offensives, detailed policies, always scanning for leverage – all these techniques must give way before that greatest method of setting a good example. Followers of the crucified Christ should place more demands on themselves than on those they lead.
- 2 Corinthians 10:1 – I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ. Christ the King – stamped with meekness and gentleness. Meekness is a receptiveness to learning and being directed and having your mind changed – Let your reasonableness be known to all. Gentlenessentails friendliness, approachableness, moderation when that makes sense. Remember how James and John approached Jesus – We want you to do whatever we ask of you. And before Jesus fed the 5000, his disciples came to him and said, Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages to find lodging and get provisions. He could have turned on them – hey I know what I’m doing; I care about people, you know. As far as being welcoming, kindly disposed – King Jesus sets the bar! Followers of this good-humored King shouldn’t themselves be repressive and severe. Graciousness is good soil for growth. Remember the last words of David: When one rules justly over men/ruling in the fear of God/ he dawns on them like the morning light/ like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning/ like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. The question to leaders is not ‘how are you advancing? but rather What’s sprouting under your authority? Confusion, sluggishness, timidity? Or confidence, ambition, vitality?
- Romans 12: 6, 7 – Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them… the one who leads, with zeal. Cruciform leadership obviously isn’t about taking it easy. The leaders that Christ appoints aren’t to please themselves, shouldn’t be looking for all the ways they might escape work and yet still come out looking ok – rather, they’re to be fully engaged in their service for others’ benefit. Leaders especially should feel the force of this exhortation: Do not be slothful in zeal. Jonathan Edwards: Resolved: To live with all my might, while I live. Communicating. Planning. Praying. Praying. Praying. It’s all just hard work. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate.
- John 10:12 – He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. Servants who follow the Crucified King don’t flee when the going gets tough. When you’re a father sometimes things get really confusing and claustrophobic: you run out of free time, you’re always feeling poor, always tired, come home from a hard day of work and just have more responsibilities, wife hardly has time for you, lonely and frustrated and poor. Stick in there, servants of the crucified Christ!
- Mark 10:32: And they were on the road, going to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. Did you hear that? Jesus, who came to serve, was out in front, striding alone. Service doesn’t always, or perhaps even usually, on the surface look humble and low. We’re not trying to look like servants… we’re trying to fill in where needed, so that what needs to get done will get done. Sometimes there are chairs needing to be carried and toilets needed scrubbing; but sometimes humble service looks like taking charge, moving into the limelight, rebuking, even employing veiled threats. But the point is: in either case, you’re not trying to advance yourself. You’re not trying to perform for the eyes of others. You’re not trying to get people to whisper, ‘and he doesn’t think he’s too good to carry the chairs.’ You’re simply doing what is necessary, what you can do, for the good of others and the glory of God. Colin, it’s not about you.