“Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Reference: Matthew 20:25-28 )
This an interesting pairing – these verses and the theme “Political Authority.” It works because Jesus is warning his disciples not to fall into “position & power, pomp & circumstance” trap. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible note that Michael Sattler saw the connection between authority and this verse, and applied it to the situation of the historic Anabaptists. He said “. . . concerning the sword: whether a Christian should be a magistrate if he is chosen? This is answered thus: Christ was to be made king, but fled and did not discern the ordinance of his Father. So we should do as he did and run after him. Then we shall not walk in darkness. For he himself says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Matt. 16:24. He himself further forbids the violence of the sword when he says; “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, etc. . . . It will not be so among you,” Matt. 20:25.”
Historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites based their church structure on this very premise, that those who are seen as “leaders” if a faith group must actually be their servants – ministering to them, consoling them and tending to their religious needs. Now that is not to say the historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites are immune from power struggles. We/they are just as apt to abuse position and power as anyone else. And all the while claiming it is for the “good of the group.”
Now, this pairing of the “violence of the sword” with power and authority is interesting. It touches not only on servant-leadership but also non-violence and non-resistance – a tangled muddle all together beloved! For the historic Anabaptists it was not just who had the “say so” but who wielded the might to back it up – all the way to aggression and violence. The magistrates of that time could order the “sword” if they felt it was needed. Rest assured though, there are more checks and balances in place now than there were then.
Also be aware, beloved, that Jesus did not just “run away” from kingship (as Sattler tells it) but “ran towards” sacrifice and crucifixion – not very common on most lists of qualifications for leadership!
What then of us, who are not Christ but neither are we leaders. How does this apply to us? Should it apply to us? Interesting considerations. Jesus was speaking to his disciples after two of them had voiced the desire to be seated as Jesus’ right and left hand, in other words places of honor and leadership. So Jesus was speaking to who ever might seek leadership. But what if one does not seek this? Does this mean these verses do not apply? Again, interesting considerations. But this does not excuse us beloved.
As modern Anabaptists/Mennonites NOW understand this, we are to be helpers and servants to fellow believers as they are helpers to us. We all need help and it behooves us as being the “face of Christ” to help whoever is in need. Christ came for us and modeled that compassion. We can do no less! Selah!