But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me," his voice no doubt still indignant, "and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:14-15). Often we take this verse out of context. In our time, children often are romantically idealized. But that is not what Mark is pointing to. Jesus fires back in the argument about who is greatest by saying that the kingdom will be closed to them if they don't become weak, despised servants, like children in the household economy.

As repulsive as it might seem to young revolutionaries, Jesus said you don't overthrow the system of this world by beating the rulers at their own game. "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them," Jesus said at the conclusion of this exchange with the disciples. "Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all" (Mark 10:42-44).

We don't establish God's new economy by becoming a new pater familias and running things right-- freeing our slaves, sharing the work, and providing for others beyond our home. Jesus didn't aspire to fix the system or to overthrow it. He submitted himself to people in simple service to show us a better way.

Jesus offers this tactic: we usher in a new way by subversively submitting to others in the twisted economy that is all around us. We expose the lie of this world's system by rejecting the greatness that it aspires to and worships. We proclaim the goodness of our Father and his economy when we delight to be his children -- utterly dependent on God and one another, the lowliest of servants in God's great economy of never-ending gift. "I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God," the psalmist sings, "than live the good life in the homes of the wicked" (Psalm 84:10). We celebrate our abundance in God's economy -- and ridicule the false economy of this world -- by aspiring to be servants while everyone else is scrambling to get in on the good life.

I was reminded of this one summer in college when I volunteered to help students into the dorms. Lugging boxes up the stairs for the 50th time, I bumped into a middle-aged man in shorts and a dirty T-shirt. He was breathing heavily and let out a grunt. I peered over my boxes to apologize and saw the man's face -- it was David Black.

When I wonder what it means to be a man of no reputation, the image that comes to mind is my college president carrying boxes in a soaked T-shirt, meeting new students as their servant before he was introduced to them as their president. It reminds me there is no system of the world inside which we can't walk with Jesus in the practice of subversive service.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an author, speaker, and pastor. He is the author of "God's Economy: Redefining the Health and Wealth Gospel" and lives with his family in intentional Christian community at the Rutba House in Durham, N.C.
This article was first published in Faith & Leadership. Used with permission.

Original publication date: March 15, 2010