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Defy the Pecking Order

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

Jesus seemed to know of their argument. And so he sat down, in the position of a rabbi, and began to teach them. First he taught them with words: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And to make sure they got it, he gave them an object lesson. He brought a child near and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child welcomes me.” For us to understand his lesson, we need to know the pecking order of the 1st c.

First were free men. They had all the privileges of citizenship, access to education, and temple life. Next were free widows of means. Some of them could own property and run businesses. They were not citizens, however. Then came adult servants, who if male were citizens and had some rights. Then women, who had few legal rights and were not citizens, And finally came children. Now, don’t get me wrong-- first century people loved their children, but considered them property to invest in, and insurance in old age. Children by themselves were insignificant in the social order, non entities in the minds of adults. So when Jesus gathered the child into his arms, he burst the pecking order wide open. Here he was, a respected rabbi with the full complement of rights,

identifying with the lowest, the most insignificant member of society. Those who are mighty are low in Jesus’ kingdom Greatness comes in serving others, not in lording your success and power over others. In one gesture, Jesus turned the social order on its head and redefined what it means to be ‘first.’ There are some people who, like Jesus, redefine being ‘first’.

One of these people in my life was Mr. Glover, my 10th grade world history teacher. He was an African American who made his way up in the world

by first working on the railroads in Alabama, then serving in the Korean War and being an air force mechanic for 24 years.When he retired from the air force, he started a second career in teaching and coaching track. Mr. Glover had a knack for reaching out to kids on the edges. He looked with a deeper eye and saw potential in kids others had dismissed. Many of his best athletes shared that they never would have joined the team

If Mr. Glover hadn’t asked them. He gave out Snickers bars in class to kids who made a speech for the first time And he wrote encouraging notes to students needed spurring on. Subtly, he challenged the system that assigned some students as successful and others as not. Mr. Glover was a behind-the-scenes kind of person.

He never put himself in the limelight. Unlike the people who always seemed to clamoring for the next promotion Or trying to feed their own egos through the acheivements of their athletes Mr. Glover put other people forward for awards

He wrote their recommendations He gave others the credit for the state championships they won. He burst open the pecking order by not claiming his place at the top,

and instead letting someone else sit there.

Mr. Glover was the kind of person who in my mind embodied Jesus’ words,

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

He understood himself as a person with gifts that could better other people’s lives.

He was humble in truest sense—

he knew his gifts, and used them for others.

But he also had a vision that wasn’t governed by the status quo.

He imagined all the kids he met as being successful,

and he did whatever he could to bring that out in them—

whether it was good for his own advancement or not.

A few years ago, Mr. Glover died of prostate cancer at the age of 68.

Around the time of his funeral, there were some gratifying remembrances of him-

students wrote things his honor, An athletic award was named after him,

an article in the newpaper. But I know that most of his life, Mr. Glover didn’t have the things that the world sees as successful: he wasn’t rich, he wasn’t teacher of year—

He taught at an average school in city school system. But Mr. Glover nonetheless knew what it meant to be first. He was first when he rewarded a student for a good effort on a test. He was first when he invited a freshman to come out for track.

He was first when seniors received their academic awards and went off to college.

“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

Each of us knows the pecking order. But instead of submitting to our place,

Instead of putting someone else into theirs, Jesus teaches us, his modern day disciples, to chuck that order altogether. Invite people who would scandalize your neighbors.

Do things for people who can’t return the favor. Eat at a different lunch table.

Defy the pecking order. Put God’s order into place, where the first will be last and the last will be first,

And all, ALL, will be welcome.


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