Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Matthew 20:20-28 ESV
At the moment, there’s a race to become the next Conservative party leader and Prime Minister of the UK. It’s been whittled down to two: the frontrunner Boris Johnson and the underdog Jeremy Hunt.
I was reminded of the episode I’ve quoted in Matthew’s gospel.
There’s quite a contrast in leadership in the world and in God’s kingdom. In the world, people fight and stab each other in the back to become top dog. In God’s kingdom however, it’s the servant of all who leads by example.
Zebedee’s family didn’t seem to understand how the kingdom of heaven works. To be honest, neither did the rest of the disciples! They were all about posturing for position in Jesus’ kingdom- maybe chancellor and foreign minister for the sons of Zebedee for example.
The other disciples were outraged at the suggestion- not because it was wrong, but because they each wanted to be Jesus’ right hand man. It wasn’t so much because they loved Jesus, but because they wanted the prestige of powerful positions in God’s kingdom.
Jesus turned the tables however, and righted their topsy-turvy thinking. Jesus hasn’t turned the world upside down- He’s setting it right way up. In His kingdom, the humblest servant is the greatest leader.
True, godly leadership isn’t about bossing people round. It’s about leading by example. You want people to serve you? Then serve them and together reciprocate virtue rather than selfish ambition and vain conceit.
And just in case you think Jesus didn’t practice what He preached, He states that He didn’t come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
Jesus is the ultimate example of leadership, giving His life for His followers and calling us to be willing to lay down our lives for Him.
The question is, will we answer the call and lead other into a life of service and self denial?