The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once called the need to be appreciated, the need to be served, the need to be big and important "the drum major instinct." While there is nothing wrong with having ambition or wanting to be leave one's mark behind in the world, in our text for this Sunday Jesus famously invites his disciples to aspire to something better than being noticed: being true servants, whether anyone notices or not.
It's easy to think of the first disciples of Jesus as people who are up there on the Mt. Rushmore of Christendom. But once again, the Scriptures point out that James and John, members of Jesus' inner circle, had clay feet just like the rest of us. We see them vying for places of honor, as Jesus gets closer and closer to what seemed like the city of his enthronement, Jerusalem. "Grant us to sit, one on your right hand and one at your left, when you enter your glory," they say. Jesus does not rebuke their desire for recognition. Instead, when the other disciples become impatient with James and John, Jesus points them all in a different direction. "Go ahead and try to be first," Jesus says. Only, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all" (10:44).
This was more than simply the beginning of a pep talk on the virtues of servant leadership. In obedience to his Father in heaven, Jesus walked the road to the cross and gave up his own life for the sin of the world. He was not one who came to be served, but to serve and "give up [his] life as a ransom for many." The ransom that Jesus spoke of was the money paid to ransom prisoners of war, to set slaves free, or to release a person from a bond (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, IV.340). Being a slave or prisoner, and being released from that captivity, was something that many people of Jesus' day would have known only too well. Jesus' accomplishment as the true Servant who paid the price to redeem us is not one that we can replicate for others. But in paying the price we could not pay, Jesus has freed us to be people who serve, regardless of the cost...whether or not people sit up and take notice...and even if such service never earns for us any earthly rewards.
As we gather again this Sunday to receive the Lord's Supper (some of us, for the first time), we receive Jesus, the only true Servant who ever lived, anew in our hearts. How will the Servant who gave up all and now lives in you, be at work this week? The drum major in you will always cry out for attention, but the Servant in you, by God's abundant grace, will continue to be at work so that others might one day glorify God...the God of the cross.