The Greatest’s place not at table

Curtis Shelburne

I want to ask you a question: Where’s your place at the table?

You’ve got one, don’t you? I don’t mean a table; I mean, a place. I’m almost certain that you do.

There’s a place at your dining room table that’s your place. It’s not that you can’t physically sit somewhere else at that table.

It’s your table.

Those are your chairs.

You can sit wherever you want to.

But you know as well as I do that not every place at that table, your table, and on those chairs, your chairs, is your place.

Sit in the wrong place and it just feels, well, wrong.

It feels like buttoning a shirt with the buttons on the wrong side.

It feels like trying to brush your teeth left-handed if you’re right-handed, or vice versa.

It feels like putting your shoes on right shoe first instead of left shoe first, or vice versa.

It’ll work, I guess, but it just feels wrong.

You’ve got a place at the table. And it’s your place. It’s where you’re supposed to be, and it just feels right, your place at the table.

But what happens if somebody else in the family decides that their own place at the table is the wrong place? And they want to switch places? And, what’s more, without asking a soul, they just move?

Then everyone else becomes more or less “dis-placed” and probably a tad disgruntled.

Or imagine another situation. It’s an empty place at the table. It’s always been filled before, but today it’s empty. Ah, that’s displacement of a far worse sort.

In Mark 9, Jesus and his disciples have just come home to Capernaum. Lots has happened in the last few days. Jesus has taken Peter, James, and John, up a “high mountain” where he was “transfigured” before them. They’re still trying to wrap their minds around that.

Meanwhile, back down the hill, the other disciples have been fussing with the Pharisees (or at least, the “teachers of the law”) and have failed spectacularly in Demon Removal 101. Jesus has cleaned up the mess, defeated the devil, and taught his disciples that it’s a really good thing to consider praying before battling the Prince of Darkness.

Then, as if all this wasn’t enough, on the surreptitious, under-the-radar trip home, he begins to talk to his disciples in earnest about his coming death and resurrection.

Busy time. Mind-boggling time.

They walk exhausted into the house at Capernaum, and a query from Christ calls them on the carpet: “What were you arguing about on the road?”

They stop in their tracks. Study their sandals. Hem and haw and start to stutter. But their jaws are shame-locked.

Jesus already knows. He knows they were arguing about who was the greatest. And he simply tells them, “The one who wants to be first must be the very last, the servant of all.”

Forget the jockeying for better places at the table. One place is about to be empty.

The Greatest of all will have left the table to serve us all.

Curtis Shelburne is pastor of 16th & Ave. D. Church of Christ in Muleshoe. Contact him at