Luke 22:24 – 27:
“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves” (ESV).
Jesus offers an insightful point about how those in power and authority also gain the status of “benefactors.” It comes from the exercise of authority and “lording over others.” But Jesus says this is not how it should be with fellow Christians (“but not so with you”). Let’s look at what “lording over” conveys.
Lording over is evidently connected to what authority means, which Jesus shows by speaking about them in the same breath: “lording over . . . those in authority.” Authority also means “right (clear from the Greek exousia)” and so “lording over” is someone’s right and as a result of lording over others (i.e., having servants or employees as part of their “right”) these overlords are likewise titled benefactors, i.e., those who benefit the people. Doesn’t there seem to be a contradiction here? How is it that those who I have to serve I also think of as being my benefactor? Shouldn’t those being served, the “lords,” think of those serving them as their benefactors rather than vice versa? Bear in mind that what Jesus has in view is not some free market system where we willingly choose to work for someone; it is better to think of how we have to pay taxes. We don’t have a choice (beyond voting for our leaders but even democracy is a modern convenience unavailable at Jesus’ time) but we must pay.
I think the contradiction is that those served should be thankful for the servants to “lord over” but the reverse happens instead: the servants become thankful for their over lords.
Then Jesus goes on to show that the one sitting at the table is greater than the one who serves at the table. In many contexts in the Gospels, it is Jesus sitting at the table. But Jesus does not act like these “overlords.” Instead the “great one, Jesus,” serves those he leads rather than exercising lordship over them. The disciples share in the benefits of Jesus’ leadership because Jesus’ leadership aims to better the disciples, both by demonstrating how to live and by passing His teaching to them.
In short, Jesus works while the disciples receive rather than the disciples work while Jesus receives. Jesus is the true Benefactor demonstrable by how He reverses what the overlords do: overlords use power and receive from their servants and gain the title benefactors but Jesus works and gives for His servants and so He is the true Benefactor of a more excellent way.
Is Jesus trying to convert His disciples thinking by, first, laying out that clearly the person who reclines is greater than the one serving but, then, by introducing the next point with “but” seeks to demonstrate how Jesus’ own example contradicts that logic? Jesus is great and so fits the imagery of the one reclining at the table but then Jesus demolishes the assumption that the “great one reclining” should be served by saying, “But I am among you as one who serves.” Thus whoever wants to be great is both great and serving, not great because he is served, like overlords dominating their people.
B. T. Scalise