The Greatest Disciple


An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intentions of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, ‘Whoever receives this child in my name receives me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest. Luke 9:46-48

There is so much in this passage that strikes at the very core of our consciences. Who among us has not been tempted by the desire to compare ourselves to others? Who has not wanted to be seen as the most important, the most valued among one’s peers? It had been only days before this argument broke out among the disciples that Jesus had chosen only Peter, James and John to go up the mountain with him, and where they witnessed his Transfiguration. Were the other disciples experiencing jealousy now? Did they feel slighted? Are these not the feelings that drive us to the madness of such comparisons and arguments?

Jesus heard them arguing, and knew “the intentions of their hearts.” This line is explosive to those who hear it for its transcendent truth. Jesus sees right through us. He knows the deepest intentions of our hearts. The disciples intentions were not innocent here. They were playing the comparison game against each other. There is nothing that could be more divisive in community, or more silly, in the eternal sense of the soul. That is why Jesus uses the innocence of a child here to chastize the disciples for their foolishness. The child knows nothing about status, or honors, real or otherwise. The child needs nothing of social honors, nor recognition of itself as having importance among others. The child’s sense of self is still uncorrupted, innocent. It needs not to measure its importance against another. The child accepts all others with equal curiosity and pleasure.

“If someone thinks he is something when he really is nothing, he is only deceiving himself.” (Galatians 6:3) This challenge that Jesus poses to his disciples is the same challenge he poses to us. We need to reflect on our own intentions. If they are toward gaining power, or self-importance at the expense of others, even if our outward actions and words appear to be innocent, Jesus knows better. Even though we may fool others, we are, in fact, only deceiving ourselves. For as Jesus says here, “…the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” We need to be challenged today, to develop the virtue of child-like innocence, just as the disciples were in this passage. What is that virtue? It is humility. It is the virtue that overcomes pride. That is why it is the virtue of heaven, while pride in the vice of hell. Let us, with God’s grace, strive to be more like that child. It is more important to serve than to be served, after all.

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.