“Jesus asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all
and servant of all.’”
I realize this might sound a little weird, but my golf game helps me understand the fullness of this passage in Mark’s Gospel. No, really. Anyone who plays golf knows that the harder they try to hit the ball, the more difficult hitting the ball becomes. That the harder they swing the less success they have in hitting the ball farther.
Golf is counterintuitive.
I think being a follower of Jesus is also counterintuitive. The desire to be first, to have power, to be independent, and self-serving is not what Jesus asks of us. And he models it for us in his life, and death.
One of the things I’ve noticed about the Gospels is that, while Jesus is always moving toward Jerusalem, he is mostly dealing with interruptions. Someone is asking him to do something for him or her, or the disciples are in need of another lesson in what it means to be a disciple, someone is sick, or outcast, or has died. Interruptions.
But Jesus always takes them into account. He listens. He heals. He brings life. He welcomes and embraces. He forgives. He puts the needs of others ahead of his own, knowing all the while that those interruptions are actually the heart of his teaching about greatness, about what it means to truly be first.
“First where?” you ask. “First in the Kingdom of God” is his answer. And there’s the rub. There are those who claim God, but market in lies, putting themselves at the front of the line, excluding those they don’t like. They thirst for power in order to elevate their own status usually at the expense of others. They talk about greatness as if, well let me give you an example: There used to be a T-shirt that was popular that said, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” The toys, of course, were usually expensive things.
God’s reign is never boastful or demeaning. God’s reign does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. You see, it’s counterintuitive to what we might be led to believe about greatness and power.
Counterintuitive. Like golf.
So here is the other thing golf has taught me that helps me understand what it means to be first by being last, and a servant of all. Too often we golfers focus on outcomes. Scores. Our handicaps. “What did you shoot today?” is often the first question asked of us. But is that all golf is? Is it just an outcome? Most of the times that I’ve really enjoyed a round of golf were focused less on outcomes, whether I break 90, or 80, but on the friendships with those I am playing.
I’ve learned an acronym recently that I think just might help my game. N.A.T.O. Not Attached To Outcome. That’s it. Not attached to outcome. The connection between this and my Christian faith, especially my vocation as an ordained person in the church is one I had never realized until now.
When I was first ordained I was ready to go out and save the world. It didn’t take long for me to be reminded that saving the world was already done. And Jesus has invited me to take part in the ongoing work of salvation he started. You’re invited, too!
The outcome is not my responsibility. N.A.T.O.