In a rather humbling narrative, the disciples of the Lord were having a discussion as they were out and about. They wondered as to who should be the greatest. Talents, skills, oratory, effect, posture, eloquence, power, persuasion, knowledge, content, context, age, experience, were maybe part of their ‘disputations,’ as they had not yet learned that a disciple is not greater than his master.
They did not yet learn the way of the cross. They did not learn the way of One greater, as they compared themselves against themselves, and they were not wise. They were still babes in the faith, and today was to be a moment of unexpected revelation.
They found the Lord in a house in Capernaum, and were immediately dazed when asked: ‘What is it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?’ Their response was well-considered, for they were stunned in silence.
Like Nathanael under the fig tree, the Lord sees all, and they were hung by their very conversation, yet the Lord as He is perfect, loosened the rope. His questions are not punitive. Of course they were discussing who should be the greatest, and the Lord in his impeccable timing and masterful teaching, sat down, and called the twelve, and said to them: ‘if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.’
He sat down. Not standing over them as if to lecture, but sitting among them in repose, as if to invite nearness and dearness to what He would say and do next. I’m guessing ‘the first shall be last’ was not part of their disputations as to what characterized greatness, and which of them would qualify.
The Lord gives opportunity to understand that wonderful phrase ‘primus inter pares,’ first among equals, and the brethren were not yet equipped to understand this truth. They would however later, but the time was not yet.
In these words of the Lord regarding servancy, he then took a child, set him in the midst of them, took him in His arms, and said to them: ‘whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receives me, and whosoever shall receive me, receives not me, but Him that sent me.’
From an off-road conversation by the way about the greatness of men, the Lord changes the dynamic completely to one of humility and place, using a little one as an example. Did the idea cross their mind as to ‘little ones’ as they disputed by the way? I doubt it.
Did the thought come up as to the possibility of ‘they without knowledge’ being somehow worthy of greatness? Probably not. But the Lord does not merely take the child by the hand, that would be fine enough, no, he takes the child in his arms………..the nearness to his bosom and place of trusting confidence. He wrapped the little one.
This is the Lord of scripture. This is the majesty of He who knows the hearts of men, and the faith of a child. He takes THAT child, and He has arms wide enough to hold fast all they who are His. The atmosphere in that room was demure, unexpected yet pure, without chaos; it was a time to rejoice in the simple; and it was a lesson for the ages; greatness has always been overrated.
The Lord instructed that there is no competition at the bottom, and how anything done in faith is ultimately pleasing to God the Father. Truly, He did all things well, and imagine the power of that example by using a little child to diffuse their very thoughts on greatness.