Penultimate – next to last

Penultimate – next to last

“If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

Mark 10:37-45

 37 James and John replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

 38 But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking!”

 40 “But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

 41 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.

 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,

 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.

 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

People everywhere have a strong desire to get ahead. They are driven by the need for respect, recognition, approval, acceptance, and esteem. It is often a matter of self-worth and identity.

It is almost as though there is some type of invisible caste or ranking system. This unseen pecking order enhances or distorts our personal sense of identity, worth, and well-being. Some individuals bubble up to the top, while others remain mired at the bottom.

Recognition and social status or the lack thereof gives birth to comparison, jealousy, strife, and intense competition. For some, a battle rages for a sense of importance and prominence. Others seek dominance and autocratic control.

The apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ were not immune. In fact, their internecine intrigues are publicly exposed in the Gospels.

Mark 10:37, 41

 37 James and John replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

 41 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant.

The request of James and John for special treatment, and places of honor, was bold and audacious. The Lord Jesus Christ corrected them with gentleness and kindness . The other disciples were furious. Why? Were they concerned about the feelings of the Lord Jesus Christ? This request came on the heels of a prediction by the Lord Jesus Christ regarding His approaching suffering and death. I think not.

Like most people, they were only concerned about their own feelings and well-being. They were probably all thinking exactly the same thing as James and John. But James and John asked first, beating them to the punch. The other apostles were jealous. They also wanted positions of prominence for themselves.

Were the apostles callously insensitive? I think not, they were clueless. They had totally failed to recognize the 500 lb. gorilla in the room. While they were getting ready to take their places in the kingdom of God, the Lord Jesus Christ was getting ready for a funeral.

REFLECT & PRAY

Jesus did not abolish ambition or desire for greatness, He repurposed it. “For the ambition to rule, he substituted the ambition to serve. For the ambition to have things done for us, he substituted the ambition to do things for others.” (Barclay).

Father encourage me to be a servant and quiet my self-assertive spirit.  

INSIGHT

The Lord Jesus Christ offered an entirely different philosophy of leadership: servant leadership. The whole idea was innovative, radical, if not revolutionary. He proposed a whole new arrangement, an inverted hierarchy. The road to honor and recognition, goes through an offbeat, out-of-the-way, often overlooked sidetrack, service. “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” – Mark 9:35

The Lord Jesus Christ took the lead. He told them how things should be. But He didn’t just talk about it, He lived it. He modeled the behavior He wanted them to follow.

Mark 10:42-45

 42 So Jesus called them together and said, you know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them.

 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant,

 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.

 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

If you truly want to be great in the Father’s kingdom, you have to become a servant. Success is found in deliberately choosing to serve others, before we serve ourselves.

Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Here is an unpretentious proposal. Be a penult. Instead of seeking to be last, settle for being in almost last. Penult is the nominal form of the adjective penultimate. Penultimate means “next to last” The word penultimate comes from the Latin word paenultima from paenealmost and ultima last.

In my fallen condition, I have learned not to take my strengths nor my weaknesses too seriously. It is pretty clear I will never be a perfect servant. It is also fairly certain I will never be dead last, either. So I will seek to be a penult.

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