The person on belay at a climbing wall is the ‘servant’ and the ‘last’ of all. The climber rises securely from hand-hold and foot-hood to hand-hold and foot-hold while attached by rope to the one ‘on belay’ below. The one on belay — the belay-er — catches the falling climber, and so saves him or her from injury or even death. The climber reaches the top while the one on belay remains on the ground, diligently protecting the one rising above.
“And [Jesus] sat, and called the twelve, and said to them [and saith to them], If any man will be the first among you, he shall be the last of all, and the minister of all [and minister, or servant, of all].”
How does the one who remains on the ground, serving the one rising to the top become first? Believe me, if you’ve ever belayed you do not feel like the one getting the ‘best deal!’ Belaying is hard work, especially when a climber falls repeatedly. You must be ready to catch the falling body, and long before it falls to strike the ground. Catching a falling climber can be gut-wrenching, both physically and emotionally. It’s a bit scary to see someone lose footing or hand-hold and fall even a few feet. And, if you are not well anchored yourself, the climber’s fall can literally yank you off your feet and put both of you in danger.
Jesus calls each of the twelve to be last, to be the servant of the others. He expects each to be well anchored in truth so as to keep his footing.
If, as servant to all, you keep your footing, then you being ‘first’ is beside the point. Isn’t it?