The fight for greatness between some very ordinary people about to do very ungreat things. The irony is unmistakeable. Jesus is showing his greatness by his servanthood. He has predicted that one of them will be so ungreat that he will betray Jesus. In their self-defense and self-justification, they aggrandize themselves as being far above even the possibility, competing with each other for how devoted they are. The way of the cross is humility and service, not will-power, claims of superiority, and machismo. You can just picture Jesus shaking his head and burying his head in his hands. He knows what lies ahead the next two days; they don’t. In principle, all of them are about to betray Jesus, give in to fears, run for their lives, and hide in the hills. Machismo will curdle into milquetoast. All of the values of the kingdom that Jesus has been preaching for three years are going to be flushed down the toilet of self-preservation. All of their commitments and proclamations show themselves to be surprisingly unreconstructed.
“Please desert your one-upmanship,” Jesus pleads. His kingdom has a whole different character. The point is not machismo, but ministry. It’s not rule, but relationships. Transformation, not domination. The distinction is not in holier-than-thou separatism or in false-humility, but in common love, true community, and sincere godliness. Jesus exhorts them, “Get off your high horse. Ride a donkey. And if you do that, don’t worry about your place in the kingdom. It’s secure.”