Who Wants To Be First?

Mark 9:30-37

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask him. 33 And they came to Caper′na-um; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

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Who wants to be first? I do, I do!
Who wants to be at the front of the queue?
Who wants to sit in the very best place?
In the very best seats?
With the very best view?
I do, I do, I do!

Jesus said, “When you are invited to a feast don’t take a seat that's marked "reserved"; sit in the place that you like least. Your host might think that you deserve. A better seat and you will find that you are honored, wined and dined in the very best seat with the very best view for you, for you, for you!

For the first will be last, and the last will be first.
The worst will be best, and the best will be worst.
The poor will be rich, and the rich will be poor.
The head of the table is near the door.
The few will be great, and the great will be few.
Those who are busy, have nothing to do.
And those who are humble will be held on high;
Along with the calm and the quiet and shy, in the very best seats
with the very best view, will you, will you, will you?
So who will be last? I will, I will!
Who wants to stand at the back of the queue?
Who wants to sit in the very worst place?
In the very worst seat?
With the very worst view?
I do, I do, and I do! [1]

These are the lyrics to a song which the children of the Sacred Heart School Choir in Yorkshire, England loved to sing. They took to heart what it means for the first to be last. Popularity is awfully attractive. With it come certain advantages. People think you’re powerful. People think you’re smart. People think you have lots of resources. As we hear the questions in that first stanza, “Who deserves the very best seat? With the very best view?” There is the answer, “I do, I do, I do” falling on our ears. The song is really about avoiding the fall that comes with chasing that which we feel entitled the most… to be known. What exactly do you want to be known for? How would you like to be included in the history books? This was perhaps in the minds of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus warned them about such acclaim, and he warned them so they wouldn’t risk the fall.

Once upon a time there was a child who won a contest. The prize was a trip on a private jet with the President, the Secretary and the Treasurer. Only the pilot, the child and those three people would fly together. As they were half way through the flight, the jet jumps up and down and begins to tilt down. The Captain announces that the engine on the left just went out. No need to panic as long as they still had another in reserve. The jet jumps up and down and begins to tilt again. The Captain announces, “Ok, people we have a problem. Now both engines are shot and we are going down.” He goes on to say, “I have good news and I have bad news. The good news is we have a parachute that can safely carry three people to the ground, out of harm’s way. The bad news is we only have one chute.”

At this time the President looks around and says, “I’m the most powerful person in the world. Looks like I’ll be first one to put on the chute.” The Secretary looks around and says, “I’m the most intelligent person in the world. Looks like I’ll be the second one to join you.” The Treasurer looks around and says, “I’m the most resourceful person in the world. Without me, there will be a great depression. Looks like I’ll be the third one to join you.” They all said, “Sorry kid” and grabbed the chute. They strapped it on, turned and gave him a salute before jumping. The child watched in disbelief. At this time, the Captain appeared and asked, “Where did everybody go?” The child replied they jumped out with the chute. The captain looks down and said, “Well at least they’ll have something to eat.” The child was puzzled and asked, “What do you mean?” “Well”, said the Captain, “I don’t know what they were thinking but the most powerful person, the smartest person and the wealthiest person jumped out with my backpack and lunch. Here is the chute. Looks like the first will be last!”

In our Gospel today, the disciples are jockeying for position, to be the closest to grab the chute; to be nearest the Lord.[2] His authority, power and popularity were on the rise. Public perception was great. Anyone near him will also be considered great. Good chance, they’ll be considered powerful, smart or wealthy. So you’re one of them. You win the contest. You, Jesus, the whole gang of disciples are all invited to a feast. The table is big enough for your party. The host and his family have laid it out. There is silverware and napkins, clean plates; The seats even have cushions on them, and you jump at the opportunity to be the first to sit. You’re being treated like royalty tonight, you think to yourself with a big smile. There’s only one problem. Jesus turns to you and says, “You need to get up and let that person sit there.” He points over to the one peering through the curtain. It is the help; a little child or maybe the mother. The one who folded the napkins and put out the clean plates, before you arrived, deserves that seat, says Jesus.

As we hear in the proverb of the capable wife, she does things for her husband and her guests, with great diligence and servitude. Each day she rises to do her chores with happiness and honor. She does not feel entitlement because she is powerful, smart or wealthy. This is not who she is. She may never be written about in the history books, but she will be remembered. She will be remembered by those she serves; Her children will never forget. Jesus has set a special place at the table for his capable wife. His bride serves him well with humbleness and joy. She honors him at the entrance of the city by proclaiming His name. She never tires from making preparations. Who do you suppose this person is behind the curtain? Who is it that has truly won the contest? Who has been given the chute of salvation? It is you, of course. It is Christ’s Church and all her members. You are His beautiful and capable bride and you come first. He will not let your life be in peril. He will rescue you in your time of need. Does she serve the master well or do her members feel left out?

Does anyone feel they deserve the best seat with the best view? What is more important? To be known by history or His-story? Jesus is putting His hands on you this morning. What he asks, is something He has already shown by his hands. He is asking you, “Will you join me in reaching the least and the lost? Will you think of others first before thinking of yourself? Will you give me all of you?” Let your answers be, “I do, I do, I do.”

[1] “Who Wants to be First?”, Lyrics written by & for: Patrick Ambrose and Adrian Haw, Sacred Heart School Children’s Choir, Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, UK, 2003.
[2] Mark 9:30-37

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