The disciples were discussing who was to to the greatest. Jesus responds by saying,
‘If anyone would be first (πρῶτος) he must be last (ἔσχατος ) of all and servant (διάκονοs) of all.”
πρῶτος can be used to convey a range of meanings although it is certain that in this case it refers to a rank amongst persons. It could mean rulers, aristocrats, ruling priests, etc. The disciples thought that when they arrived at Jerusalem Jesus would be proclaimed King and they would all be given significant jobs and titles. The disciples seemed to have misunderstood the nature of Jesus’ ministry and their role as kingdom followers. Later on in Mark’s gospel we see James and John, in Mark 10:35-37, declare their desire to have places of importance in Jesus kingdom..
Jesus, however, says that the one who desires to lead must be someone who is lowly and serves. They must be a διάκονοs. The basic meaning of this word was for someone who waited on tables (Mark 1:21) but can also be used of a servant in a more general sense. The call of the kingdom is a call to servanthood. Jesus models this in his own life for, see Mark 10:45, he came to serve and give his life a ransom for many.
Jesus brings a child into his midst. From one of my commentaries I found the following,
The child in this scene (9:36) is a concrete example of one who would be regarded as “last of all” in the ancient social order. The high infant mortality rate in antiquity contributed to the marginalization of children. Perhaps fewer than half lived to their fifth year. They had only recently come from the divine realm and were likely to leave this life at any time; thus, they were not fully human beings (Wiedemann 1989). Indeed in the Gospel narrative all the children who have been portrayed up to this point have been either terminally ill (5:23), demon-possessed (7:25; 9:17), or under the control of evil and manipulative adults (6:22–25).
Dowd, Sharyn Echols: Reading Mark : A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Second Gospel. Macon, Ga. : Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000 (Reading the New Testament Series), S. 96
The disciples are thus encouraged to reach out the weak and marginalised, not to seek glory and honour for themselves. The disciple in the kingdom is to welcome, be hospitable, to those who will not necessarily increase their status of honour amongst their peers.
How do we see our lives. As an Ordinand I look, if I am honest to myself, for ‘ministerial greatness’, for a position of power in an influential position. My desire, as a kingdom child, should be to help the vulnerable and not to hob-nob with bishops. Jesus models the true way in his ministry.
In writing this last paragraph and re-reading it I see that I am looking at the future to display kingdom values. What about the present? Do I seek prestige, probably academic prestige amongst my peers, to show my worth in the kingdom? Do I serve in the present? Do you?