If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all (Mark 9:33-41)

Parallel passages:  Matthew 10:42, 18:1-5; Luke 9:46-50, 18:17

33And he came to Capernaum: and being in the house he asked them, What was it that ye disputed among yourselves by the way?

34But they held their peace: for by the way they had disputed among themselves, who should be the greatest.

35And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.

36And he took a child, and set him in the midst of them: and when he had taken him in his arms, he said unto them,

37Whosoever shall receive one of such children in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me.

38And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.

39But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.

40For he that is not against us is on our part.

41For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

 

Interpretation by the Church Fathers

Shepherd of Hermas

“And they who believed from the twelfth mountain, which was white, are the following: they are as infant children, in whose hearts no evil originates; nor did they know what wickedness is, but always remained as children. Such accordingly, without doubt, dwell in the kingdom of God, because they defiled in nothing the commandments of God; but they remained like children all the days of their life in the same mind. All of you, then, who shall remain stedfast, and be as children,1 without doing evil, will be more honoured than all who have been previously mentioned; for all infants are honourable before God, and are the first persons with Him.2 Blessed, then, are ye who put away wickedness from yourselves, and put on innocence. As the first of all will you live unto God.”

1 Matt. 18:3.

2 [Mark 9:36.]

Roberts, A., Donaldson, J., & Coxe, A. C. (Eds.). (1885). The Pastor of Hermas. In F. Crombie (Trans.), Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (Vol. 2, p. 53). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Cyprian of Carthage

Our Lord “was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a lamb before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”11 “I am not rebellious,” says He, “neither do I gainsay. I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to the palms of their hands. I hid not my face from the filthiness of spitting.”12 And dares any one now, who lives by and in this very One, lift up himself and be haughty, forgetful, as well of the deeds which He did, as of the commands which He left to us either by Himself or by His apostles? But if “the servant is not greater than his Lord.”13 let those who follow the Lord humbly and peacefully and silently tread in His steps, since the lower one is, the more exalted be may become; as says the Lord, “He that is least among you, the same shall be great.”1

11 Isa. 53:7.

12 Isa. 50:5, 6.

13 John 13:16.

1 Luke 9:48.

Cyprian of Carthage. (1886). The Epistles of Cyprian. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), R. E. Wallis (Trans.), Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Novatian, Appendix (Vol. 5, pp. 284–285). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

Basil the Great

The voice should be modulated; no one ought to answer another, or do anything, roughly or contemptuously, but in all things 30 moderation31 and respect should be shewn to every one.32 No wily glances of the eye are to be allowed, nor any behaviour or gestures which grieve a brother and shew contempt.33 Any display in cloak or shoes is to be avoided; it is idle ostentation.34 Cheap things ought to be used for bodily necessity; and nothing ought to be spent beyond what is necessary, or for mere extravagance; this is a misuse of our property. The Christian ought not to seek for honour, or claim precedence.35 Every one ought to put all others before himself.36 The Christian ought not to be unruly.37 He who is able to work ought not to eat the bread of idleness,38 but even he who is busied in deeds well done for the glory of Christ ought to force himself to the active discharge of such work as he can do.39 Every Christian, with the approval of his superiors, ought so to do everything with reason and assurance, even down to actual eating and drinking, as done to the glory of God.40 The Christian ought not to change over from one work to another without the approval of those who are appointed for the arrangement of such matters; unless some unavoidable necessity suddenly summon any one to the relief of the helpless. Every one ought to remain in his appointed post, not to go beyond his own bounds and intrude into what is not commanded him, unless the responsible authorities judge any one to be in need of aid. No one ought to be found going from one workshop to another. Nothing ought to be done in rivalry or strife with any one.

30 cf. Tit. 3:2.

31 Phil. 4:5, τὸ ἐπιεικές. In 1 Tim. 3:3, “patient” is ἐπιεικής.

32 Rom. 12:10 and 1 Pet. 2:17.

33 Rom. 14:10.

34 Matt. 6:29, Luke 12:27.

35 Mark 9:37.

36 Phil. 2:3.

37 Tit. 1:10.

38 2 Thess. 3:10.

39 1 Thess. 4:11.

40 1 Cor. 10:31.

Basil of Caesarea. (1895). Letters. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), B. Jackson (Trans.), St. Basil: Letters and Select Works (Vol. 8, pp. 128–129). New York: Christian Literature Company.

Cyril of Alexandria

But of what did He make the child He had taken a type and representation? Of an innocent and unambitious life. For the mind of a child is void of fraud, and his heart sincere; his thoughts are simple; he covets not rank, and knows not what is meant by one man being higher in station than another: he has even no unwillingness to be regarded as the least, nor sets himself above any other person whatsoever: and though he be of good family by birth, he does not quarrel about dignity even with a slave: nor though he have rich parents, is he aware of any difference between himself and poor children. On the contrary, he likes being with them, and talks and laughs with them without distinction. In his mind and heart there is great frankness arising from simplicity and innocence. For even the Saviour once said to the holy Apostles, or rather to all those who love Him: “Verily I say unto you, that unless ye be converted, and become like these children, ye cannot enter the kingdom of God.”* And at another time again, when the women were bringing to Him their infants, and the disciples prevented them, He said, “Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto Me;* for of such as they is the kingdom of heaven.” And again the most wise Paul desires that those who believe in Christ should be “grown men in understanding, but in malice babes.”* And another of the holy Apostles said: “As babes just born, love the rational and pure milk, that ye may grow thereby unto salvation, if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is kind.”*

As I said then, Christ brought forward the child as a pattern of simplicity and innocence, and set him also by Him;” shewing by him, as in a figure, that He accepts and loves those who are such, and deems them worthy, so to speak, of standing at His side, as being like-minded with Him, and anxious to tread in His steps.* For He said, “Learn of Me: for I am meek, and lowly in heart.” And if He Who transcends all, and is crowned with such surpassing glories, is lowly in heart, how must it not bring upon such as we are, yea, even upon our very selves, the blame of utter madness,t if we do not bear ourselves humbly towards the poor, and learn what our nature is, but love to vaunt ourselves ambitiously above our measure!

And He further says: “He that receiveth this child in My name receiveth Me: and he that receiveth Me rcceiveth Him that sent Me.” Since, therefore, the reward of those that honour the saints is one and the same, whether he who is honoured be, if it so chance, of modest rank, or of exalted station and dignity;—for he receiveth Christ, and by Him and in Him the Father;—how was it not utterly foolish for them to quarrel among themselves, and aim at pre-eminence, and be unwilling to be thought inferior to others, when they were to be accepted on equal terms!

But He makes the purport of this declaration even still more plain by saying: “For he that is least among you all, the same is chief.” And how is he the chief, who is regarded as the least? Is the comparison in point of virtue? But how can this be? The foremost place is not assigned to him who is chief in virtue above him who is otherwise. In what way, then, is he chief who is least? Probably, then, He calls him least whom lowly things please, and who, from modesty, does not think highly of himself. Such a one pleases Christ: for it is written, “that every one that exalteth himself shall be abased: and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”* And Christ Himself somewhere says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven.”* The ornament, therefore, of a soul that is sanctified is a poor and humble mind: but the wish to think highly of oneself, and to be at strife with the brethren for the sake of honour and dignity, and foolishly to quarrel with them, is in like manner a disgrace. Such conduct separates friends, and makes even those perhaps great enemies whose dispositions are similar. It overpowers the law of nature, and subverts that innate affection which we owe our brethren. It divides lovers, and sometimes makes even those enemies of one another, who are united by being born from one womb. It fights against and resists the blessings of peace. Miserable is it, and a malady invented by the wickedness of the devil. For what is there more delusive than vainglory? Like smoke it is dispersed; like a cloud it passeth away, and like the vision of a dream changeth into nothingness. It scarcely equalleth the herbage in endurance, and withereth like grass.* For it is written, that “all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.” It is a weakness, therefore, despised even among us, and numbered among the greatest evils. For who docs not reckon a vainglorious man, inflated with empty airs, an annoyance? Who does not regard with contempt, and give the name of “boaster,” to one who refuses to be on an equality with others, and thrusts himself forward as if claiming to be accounted their superior? Let, then, the malady of vaingloriousness be far from those who love Christ: and let us rather consider our companions as better than we are, and be anxious to adorn ourselves with that humility of mind, which is well-pleasing to God. For being thus simpleminded, as becometh saints,u we shall be with Christ, Who honoureth simplicity: by Whom and with Whom, to God the Father, be praise and dominion with the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever, Amen.

* Mat. 18:3.

* Luke 18:16.

* 1 Cor. 14:20.

* 1 Pet. 2:2.

* Mat. 11:29.

t S. Cyril apparently must have used in the original some such word as βρόντησις, or κεραύνωσις, which the translator has literally rendered ܡܪܠܡܘܬܐ; and this term he explains in the margin as signifying “madness; as it were the headache, ܨܘܕܪܐ, produced by thunder.” Castellus explains ܨܘܕ;ܐ, as nausea, = صذاع: an error for صداع: and this he renders cephalæa, “an intense pain in the head,” (Plin. 20:13. 51.): but as צדע signifies the temple, (conf. Buxtorf’s Rab. Lex.), I have no doubt that its exact meaning is, “a pain in the temples.”

* Luke 14:11.

* Mat. 5:3.

* 1 Pet. 1:24.

u The MS. reads, “as becometh the rich;” but as the argument is not addressed to them in particular, I imagine that the translator mistook ὁσίοις for πλουσίοις, and have translated accordingly.

Cyril of Alexandria. (1859). A Commentary upon the Gospel according to S. Luke. (R. P. Smith, Trans.) (pp. 244–247). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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