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A Dispute Over Greatness

A Dispute Over Greatness

MATTHEW 26:31-35 MARK 14:27-31 LUKE 22:24-38 JOHN 13:31-38




During his last evening with his apostles, Jesus has provided them with a fine lesson in humble service by washing their feet. Why is that fitting? Because of a weakness they have shown. They are devoted to God, yet they still are concerned about which of them is greatest. (Mark 9:33, 34; 10:35-37) That weakness resurfaces this evening.

The apostles become involved in “a heated dispute among them over which one of them was considered to be the greatest.” (Luke 22:24) How saddened Jesus must be to see them bickering again! What does he do?

Rather than scolding the apostles for their attitude and behavior, Jesus patiently reasons with them: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. You, though, are not to be that way. . . . For which one is greater, the one dining or the one serving?” Then, reminding them of the example that he has constantly set for them, Jesus says: “But I am among you as the one serving.”​—Luke 22:25-27.

Despite their imperfections, the apostles have stuck with Jesus through many challenging situations. So he says: “I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.” (Luke 22:29) These men are Jesus’ loyal followers. He assures them that by means of a covenant between him and them, they will be in the Kingdom and share in his royal dominion.

Although the apostles have this marvelous prospect, they are still in the flesh and are still imperfect. Jesus tells them: “Satan has demanded to have all of you to sift you as wheat,” which scatters as it is sifted. (Luke 22:31) He also warns: “All of you will be stumbled in connection with me on this night, for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered about.’”​—Matthew 26:31; Zechariah 13:7.

Peter confidently objects: “Although all the others are stumbled in connection with you, I will never be stumbled!” (Matthew 26:33) Jesus tells Peter that before a rooster crows twice that night, Peter will disown him. However, Jesus adds: “I have made supplication for you that your faith may not give out; and you, once you have returned, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32) Yet Peter boldly affirms: “Even if I should have to die with you, I will by no means disown you.” (Matthew 26:35) The other apostles say the same thing.

Jesus tells his disciples: “I am with you a little longer. You will look for me; and just as I said to the Jews, ‘Where I go you cannot come,’ I now say it also to you.” Then he adds: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples​—if you have love among yourselves.”​—John 13:33-35.

At hearing Jesus say that he is to be with them just a little longer, Peter asks: “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus replies: “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.” Puzzled, Peter says: “Lord, why is it I cannot follow you now? I will surrender my life in your behalf.”​—John 13:36, 37.

Jesus now refers to the time when he sent the apostles out on a preaching tour of Galilee without a money bag or a food pouch. (Matthew 10:5, 9, 10) He asks: “You did not lack anything, did you?” They reply: “No!” But what should they do in the days ahead? Jesus directs them: “Let the one who has a money bag take it, likewise a food pouch, and let the one who has no sword sell his outer garment and buy one. For I tell you that what is written must be accomplished in me, namely, ‘He was counted with lawless ones.’ For this is being fulfilled concerning me.”​—Luke 22:35-37.

Jesus is pointing to the time when he will be nailed to a stake alongside evildoers, or lawless ones. Thereafter his followers will face severe persecution. They feel that they are prepared and say: “Lord, look! here are two swords.” He answers: “It is enough.” (Luke 22:38) That they have two swords with them will soon afford Jesus an opportunity to teach another important lesson.