Mark 9:32-35

THE TRUE AMBITION

Mk. 9:32-35

So they came to Capernaum. When Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” They remained silent. for on the road they had been arguing with each other who was to be greatest. So Jesus sat down, and called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he must be the last of all, and the servant of all.”

Nothing so well shows how far the disciples were from realizing the real meaning of Jesus’ Messiahship as this does. Repeatedly he had told them what awaited him in Jerusalem, and yet they were still thinking of his Kingdom in earthly terms and of themselves as his chief ministers of state. There is something heart-breaking in the thought of Jesus going towards a Cross and his disciples arguing about who would be greatest.

Yet in their heart of hearts they knew they were wrong. When he asked them what they had been arguing about they had nothing to say. It was the silence of shame. They had no defence. It is strange how a thing takes its proper place and acquires its true character when it is set in the eyes of Jesus. So long as they thought that Jesus was not listening and that Jesus had not seen, the argument about who should be greatest seemed fair enough, but when that argument had to be stated in the presence of Jesus it was seen in all its unworthiness.

If we took everything and set it in the sight of Jesus it would make all the difference in the world. If of everything we did, we asked, “Could I go on doing this if Jesus was watching me?”; if of everything we said, we asked, “Could I go on talking like this if Jesus was listening to me?” there would be many things which we would be saved from doing and saying. And the fact of Christian belief is that there is no “if” about it. All deeds are done, all words are spoken in his presence. God keep us from the words and deeds which we would be ashamed that he should hear and see.

Jesus dealt with this very seriously. It says that he sat down and called the Twelve to him. When a Rabbi was teaching as a Rabbi, as a master teaches his scholars and disciples, when he was really making a pronouncement, he sat to teach. Jesus deliberately took up the position of a Rabbi teaching his pupils before he spoke. And then he told them that if they sought for greatness in his Kingdom they must find it, not by being first but by being last, not by being masters but by being servants of all. It was not that Jesus abolished ambition. Rather he recreated and sublimated ambition. 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.

So far from being an impossibly idealistic view, this is a view of the soundest common-sense. The really great men, the men who are remembered as having made a real contribution to life, are the men who said to themselves, not, “How can I use the state and society to further my own prestige and my own personal ambitions?” but, “How can I use my personal gifts and talents to serve the state?”

Stanley Baldwin paid a noble tribute to Lord Curzon when he died. In it he said, “I want, before I sit down, to say one or two things that no one but I can say. A Prime Minister sees human nature bared to the bone, and it was my chance to see him twice when he suffered great disappointment–the time when I was preferred to him as Prime Minister, and the time when I had to tell him that he could render greater service to the country as chairman of the Committee of Imperial Defence than in the Foreign Office. Each of these occasions was a profound and bitter disappointment to him, but never for one moment did he show by word, look, or innuendo, or by any reference to the subject afterwards, that he was dissatisfied. He bore no grudge, and he pursued no other course than the one I expected of him, of doing his duty where it was decided he could best render service.” Here was a man whose greatness lay not in the fact that he reached the highest offices of state, but in the fact that he was ready to serve his country anywhere.

True selflessness is rare, and when it is found it is remembered. The Greeks had a story of a Spartan called Paedaretos. Three hundred men were to be chosen to govern Sparta and Paedaretos was a candidate. When the list of the successful was announced his name was not on it. “I am sorry,” said one of his friends, “that you were not elected. The people ought to have known what a wise officer of state you would have made.” “I am glad,” said Paedaretos, “that in Sparta there are three hundred men better than I am.” Here was a man who became a legend because he was prepared to give to others the first place and to bear no ill will.

Every economic problem would be solved if men lived for what they could do for others and not for what they could get for themselves. Every political problem would be solved if the ambition of men was only to serve the state and not to enhance their own prestige. The divisions and disputes which tear the church asunder would for the most part never occur if the only desire of its office-bearers and its members was to serve it without caring what position they occupied. When Jesus spoke of the supreme greatness and value of the man whose ambition was to be a servant, he laid down one of the greatest practical truths in the world.

Back to: THE GOSPEL OF MARK

Back to: Barclay’s Commentary

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