The historical Jesus proclaimed and enacted the Kingdom of God, challenging leadership styles and the use of power, not only in his own time but also for those who aspire to follow the way of the Kingdom today.
On one occasion, Jesus was asked by his followers about the thrones and positions of power and authority they would occupy when the reign and rule of the Father arrived. Jesus responded,
"You know that those considered rulers among the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you." (Mark 10:43)
The Gentile way, practiced by those in authority who supported the Empire, seeks to govern and lead through control, dominance, and enforced submission. These are the 'great' ones who aim to establish their own reputation and prioritize personal gain over the needs of those they lead. This ascent in leadership often leaves victims trampled and abused in the pursuit of power and control. It was the default leadership style in Jesus' day and still lingers within the contemporary corridors of power.
Jesus is crystal clear: this is not the way of the Kingdom, nor should it be the way of those who follow King Jesus. He offers a different path by contrasting the Gentile approach with the way of the 'servant.'
"Whoever desires greatness among you must be your servant, and whoever aims to be first among you must be a servant to all." (Mark 10:44)
Jesus emphasizes that those aspiring to greatness and being first must be willing to serve and accept the role of servants or even slaves to all.
For those with ears to hear, Jesus draws upon the Servant Songs of Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9; and especially 52:13-53:12). These songs depict an alternative servant community that serves as a light and beacon for the establishment of God's reign. It's a community willing to endure suffering so that the redemptive and healing power of God can shine upon the wider world.
For Jesus, this ancient and profound wisdom, in contrast to that of the Gentiles, represents the way of the kingdom and the path of discipleship.
Jesus concludes his revolutionary leadership seminar with these words:
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45)
Jesus, who uses the term "the Son of Man" to refer to his own life and ministry, practiced what he preached. The King chose to serve and give rather than to control and take. The way of the kingdom is the path of cruciform love, ultimately leading Jesus to give up his life. This death brings about the great reversal, transforming the cross, once a symbol of Gentile power and domination, into a symbol of redemption and self-giving sacrificial love.
Jesus continues to speak and inspire us to pursue the path of cruciform love.
'If anyone desires to be my disciple, they must take up their cross and follow me.' (Matthew 16:24)