Going Deeper with God – I’m First! (Selected Gospel Passages)

In Eat this Book, Eugene Peterson teaches us to chew on a passage of scripture, digest it, and then put it to use in practical ways. Our early Christian fathers and mothers called this process Lectio Divina. These passages show us that, much to the  dismay of Jesus, the disciples frequently thought about their role in his coming kingdom. “Who’s first?” is a question   with which we all can identify.

 Mark 9: 33-35;  Luke 9:46-48; Mark 10: 35-29;  “I Want to Be First!

“[Then the disciples] came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.  He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9: 33 -35).

They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. “Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,” he said. “And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference” (Luke 9: 46-48).

“Then James and John, sons of  Zebedee, came to him, ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do whatever we ask.’  ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked.  They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at the left in your glory.’ ‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they said” (Mark 10: 35-39).


Don’t you feel embarrassed for these disciples? Jesus tries repeatedly to explain life in his Kingdom and what they are worried about is their status in that kingdom. In Matthew’s account (Matt. 20:20), they even hide behind their mother as she asks them to do her the favor of giving her two sons the highest leadership positions in his kingdom. Even if Jesus were just another political leader looking for senior advisers in his government, mother and sons look really greedy. But this was the Messiah, the one who walked on water, who healed all manner of physical and mental diseases, who fed thousands with a child’s lunch basket, who dared to contradict the most important religious leaders in the country!  How did they have the nerve to push themselves to the front and claim the highest positions in the movement?  

We may sign in relief and say, “At least I wouldn’t be dumb enough to do to that.”  But can we deny that we never hoped, “I wish I could be first (or best-dressed, smartest, most well-read, most popular, most religious?)” Can you identify with friends trying to one-up each other (better car, bigger house, best vacation, smarter children, best tennis game, most books read, better landscaping)?  What is the common denominator?  “Look at me. See how great I am.” Usually we are less obvious or more ingratiating than these blatant requests of Jesus by his disciples.  But our motivations are the same. 


Jesus gives three different (but the same) answers to these gold diggers:

  • It is better to be last than first.  Greatness comes through service.
  • Become child-like. Accept your status and your position. Pushing to get ahead will get you nowhere.
  • “Drink my cup.” If you can’t go through what I go through, don’t even dream of serving next to me.

Jesus helps us become his apprentices by pointing us to the model of service, acceptance, and sacrifice.  The next time you catch yourself want to be seen as the best – or even the better – choose one his answers to the disciples and put it into practice.


“The context of Luke heightens the absurdity of this debate among the disciples. Jesus has just announced His impending death (9:44) and He is about to set His face to go to that fate in Jerusalem (9:51). Sandwiched between these solemn pronouncements, the disciples bicker about which of them is the greatest! We will again encounter a similar episode at the Last Supper (22:24). But before we shake our heads and say, “How could they do that?” we need to acknowledge that we are made of the same fabric as the disciples; we struggle against the same problems. The fact that they got into a similar dispute on the eve of the crucifixion should also warn us that this isn’t a lesson that you learn once and store away in your file cabinet. It is a lesson that we must constantly apply” (bible.org website)

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1 Response to Going Deeper with God – I’m First! (Selected Gospel Passages)

  1. Carol McGeehan says:

    Karen, Thank you for this powerful lesson and reminder to serve humbly instead of seeking fame.

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