With the mother of the boys of Zebedee asking for positions of power in the coming kingdom, Jesus clarifies a few things: (1) those places were not His to give, (2) the kingdom is not what they think it is, and (3) there is followership that they would not yet understand (e.g. to the death). The grumbling of the ten toward the two is the immediate context of these counter-cultural, and do not miss that fact! The ten were upset and, as we will see, Jesus, by implication, would expose their hearts too. They were angry not because they were humble but because they wanted those positions for themselves. All twelve were seeking authority and power instead of truth in leadership.
In bringing everyone together, Jesus starts by presenting the wrong view of position and authority. In the ESV, we see the word "over" used twice in verse 25 to reference how the Gentile nations defined leadership or authority by example. This English translation comes from the Greek preposition kata that adjoins other verbs to form our meaning. Thus according to worldly wisdom and practice, authority flows downward from one station to those beneath it. The imagery is one of command and power that could not be questioned indicating a ruthlessness of those holding power and authority. Moving beyond the simple preposition, we dig into the action verbs that unveil the wrong kind of leadership or authority for followers of Christ.
In contrast to this model, Jesus rebuked all the disciples for wanting a position of authority or leadership - "it shall not be so among you." He saw into their hearts and needed to boldly address them. He, in a sense, told them to forget all that they believed the knew so that He could deposit truth to them. Jesus had to correct their thinking and understanding in order to shape their actions. As we say all the time here at Defined by Moments, "how you live is how you lead," and Jesus was teaching that right here! He wanted their hearts and lives so that He could change their habits and leadership.
In our English translations (verse 26 and 28), we see variations of the word serve that come from variations of the same Greek word. That term is where we gain our English word for "deacon" meaning waiter, administrator, servant, or someone actively on the move to word. What a contrast we see here because the prior terms (referencing Gentile leadership or authority) come from a passive aspect - you, in accordance with your elevated position, recline while others do based upon their lower status. Jesus is teaching that those seeking greatness or authority or being first must serve others. It is about empowering them rather than protecting power for yourself.
If that was not appalling enough, He goes even lower in verse 27 by no longer speaking of a servant but an outright slave. The Greek term - doulos - evokes tough images of those who no longer have rights but are completely bound to someone else. They do not have freedom but must follow the will of someone else. The disciples would have been aghast and confused as they wanted posh positions like the Roman and Jewish leaders - not this stifling servitude that Jesus described. Sensing this internal struggle, Jesus did not stop there but reiterated a prior teaching - as the Son of Man, He was about to give His life (active service) as a ransom for many (adopting the will of His Father).
To conclude here, Jesus redefined leadership, authority, and positions. As a challenge to the common norms, He would agree that these terms are much more appropriate: humility, service, others-oriented, sacrifice, and legacy. Want proof? Consider the volume of writings that we have about Jesus Christ (who lived the latter definition) with that of Pontius Pilate (who lived the former definition). There is no comparison!! Very little is known historically of the Roman prefect outside of the Bible while libraries are filled with works about Jesus.
If that proof above is not sufficient for you, notice how the chapter ends. Immediately following this private teaching, Jesus offers a public example of what He intended. With a large crowd following Him to Jerusalem, two blind men cry out to Him for healing. The people around them are perturbed that they would not hush and leave Him to more important things. Jesus, instead, pauses and asks them what they want. Without hesitation, they ask for their sight and Jesus, moved with compassion, heals them. His humility, service, others-orientation, and sacrifice are what comprise His legacy for us. We should never become so busy or focused on a task that we lose our compassion for the needs of others. If we lose that compassion, then we become the positional authorities that Jesus taught to avoid.
Our world needs more leaders who live like Jesus described. Are you willing to be one of them?