The Greatest in the Kingdom (Luke 9:46-48)

In today’s reading an argument breaks out among the disciples.  How would it sound? “I’m the greatest because I left the most behind.” “No.  I’m the greatest because He takes me everywhere.”  “He takes those other two guys everywhere with you; you’re no greater than they are.”  “You’re all wrong; I’m the greatest because I cast out the most demons.”  “Yeah, but I healed the most people.”

The Greatest in the Kingdom

46 An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest.

47 Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side

48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”

Okay, I don’t really believe that it went down the way I’ve portrayed it above.  But I am fairly certain that each of them was making a case for their own greatness (as they measure greatness).  We won’t judge them; they’re being formed – and it’s not our place to judge.  And as we’ve said before, formation takes time … and grace.

If you’ll allow me the following hyperbole, we need to constantly remember that the single greatest thing that we can do is to glorify God.  In so doing, not only are we doing what is right and just, we will also draw people to Him.  Men can quibble among themselves about who is the greatest one in the group, but why?  After all “Jesus” is the greatest name in heaven and on earth (see Philippians 2:5-10).

But Jesus says “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.”  What does he mean by this?  Again, you’ve heard me say it before, that one of the beauties of scripture lies in its ability to communicate multiple truths in the same passage.  To some people, the child represents the least powerful in the society.  They believe that Jesus is telling His disciples that in receiving and caring for the weakest, they are also caring for Jesus Himself.  Indeed, if we were to read The Judgement of Nations in the Gospel according to Matthew (Mt 25:31-46), we see that Jesus says “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).

But today, that’s not how this reading speaks to me.  If we look at the phrase “in my name” (Greek, epi tō onomati) it has the sense of “in my behalf”.  The custom in the ancient world of the Jews was that the manner in which you received an emissary or representative demonstrated how you would receive the person himself.  To me, Jesus is saying “Stop arguing over your greatness.  Do you think that you need to be great in order for someone to receive you as my emissary?” (Don’t forget, the disciples are sent on mission by Jesus.)  I’ll also point out that Jesus says “this child”, not “a child”.  What this says to me (today) is that any emissary of His, however seemingly unimportant, received as His representative shows the honor that is appropriate to Him.

Moreover Jesus says of his disciples “the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”  Again, to many people this speaks to the virtue of humility.  And that’s how I’ve seen it myself; many times.  But today, it speaks to me of discipleship (not surprised, are you?).  Jesus’ disciples are undergoing formation.  Part of that formation requires them to stop considering things the way the world does.  In essence, they need to forget what the world has taught them if they are going to learn what Jesus is teaching them.  So, I read Jesus as saying “the one who is least among all of you” – the way you measure least and greatest – “is the one who is the greatest” – the way I measure least and greatest.  (Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my intention to make you think I’m adding to scripture.)

Our prayerful response can be to ask for the grace to always exalt Jesus over ourselves.  We pray for the grace to honestly ask ourselves “am I Christ’s emissary in all that I do?”


Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Related Posts

Leave a Reply