He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
What were these ordinary fisher-folk thinking when Jesus called them to be disciples? Were they captured by Jesus’ message of the new order of God’s reign? Saying “yes” to Jesus meant their status as “nobodies” was transformed — they became partners in proclaiming the living reality of the “kingdom of heaven.” I was raised in an island setting grounded in nature and communal relationships. Central to Samoan culture is the matai system, where family members engage in conversation until consensus is reached as to whom will serve as matai (high chief) of the extended family. The matai, a servant leader, is committed to working with and among all members to ensure the health and well-being of the family; and, in collaboration with the council of chiefs, is responsible for the security and welfare of the village. This role requires the sacrifice of one’s resources, sense of individuality and personal gain for the good and wholeness of all. This, I believe, is the model of servant leadership and discipleship to which Jesus called his followers. Jesus shared his impending betrayal, death and resurrection. The disciples were fearful of what this would mean; it’s not what they signed up for. So, they argued about who was greater. Perhaps they struggled to understand the sacrifices of living out the “kingdom of heaven.” So, Jesus sat down (lowered the disciples’ ambitions to the ground of humility and servanthood), and said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Prayer: Loving Matai, lead us in service of your reign, your wholeness and aloha for all. Amen.
Rev. Piula Alailima
Wesley UMC (Honolulu)