I was standing in a very long line at Disneyland, waiting for one of the amusements. The line stretched and winded through a corded off maze. If it were up to me I would have thrown in the towel and headed for the nearest ice-cream stand and bit of shade. But my son was with me, and he really wanted to go on the ride. So we waited. Then I saw some movement. An official Disney employee made their way through the crowd. She was walking, walking, walking straight toward us. She stopped. “Come with me” she said. She led us out of the mass of people and brought us to a side door, through some secret hallways and voila, right into the next available car on the ride. I was shocked. We were chosen, out of hundreds of people, to go to the front of the line. I felt a little sorry for everyone we passed along the way, but the sentiment quickly faded because now we were first! Woo hoo! What a great feeling!
It is not often that I have the privilege of being first. When it does happen it is usually because of sheer luck. Of course there are those less dignified times when I have high tailed it to be first at the grocery store checkout, or booked it to the bathroom to beat the crowd during a play intermission. I remember as a child on Easter morning running as fast as I could to find eggs and candy before my siblings, or muscling my way to the head of the group of kids chosen during the neighborhood kickball game. No one wants to be picked last. It must be one of those innate desires. We want to be first. You don’t have to teach this concept, it comes naturally.
Surprisingly we also see it in the Bible with, of all people, Jesus’ closest friends. The question “who is going to be first?” came up with the disciples. They asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1) Once the question was out there, I’m sure the group quieted. Perhaps they looked at Jesus and wondered “Who is it going to be?” Jesus started to look around. Maybe they stood up a little straighter as his gaze fell near them, pushed their shoulders back, tried to appear worthy. Maybe they thought, “Is he looking at me? Am I going to be the first? I am pretty talented and have been told I am not too bad looking. I think he’s looking this way. I better appear important.”
Jesus stared past them, past all of them. “What? What is he doing? No one is over there, we are all over here!” His gaze stopped, and he looked down at a small child. He beckoned to the child and had him stand among the disciples. Then Jesus spoke. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4.
What? Here is another example of God’s “upside down kingdom.” Those who are first, are last (Matthew 19:30). They are the least, the small, childlike, insignificant, trusting and humble. Those who are called to lead know how to serve. How strange! We consider the qualities of leadership to be power, might, influence, success, beauty, wealth, popularity, shrewdness, the movers and shakers, the sizzle and pop. Yet Jesus says, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave –just as the Son of Man [Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26-28.