35 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came up to him. “Teacher, we have something we want you to do for us.”
36 “What is it? I’ll see what I can do.”
37 “Arrange it,” they said, “so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”
38 Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?”
39-40 “Sure,” they said. “Why not?”
Jesus said, “Come to think of it, you will drink the cup I drink, and be baptized in my baptism. But as to awarding places of honor, that’s not my business. There are other arrangements for that.”
41-45 When the other ten heard of this conversation, they lost their tempers with James and John. Jesus got them together to settle things down. “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.” (Mark 10:35-45 The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
Oh dear. James and John, do you have any idea what you’re asking for?
Will you be baptized like Jesus in the muddy Jordan River, entering into the lives of those you’ve been called to serve? Will you enter willingly into the horrible, degrading trial that awaits Jesus? Are you able to be flogged before being forced to drag your cross to Calvary? Will you drink the cup that is crucifixion?
Or will you freeze with horror when your teacher is arrested and run for the hills during the trial? Will you deny him?
You don’t have a clue, do you, James and John? You don’t have any idea what you’re asking?
They want security. They’re afraid of what Jesus has been telling them. He’s warned them that he’ll be handed over and condemned to death. He’ll be handed over to the Romans and they’ll mock him and spit on him and flog him and kill him. They understand that part. That’s what happens to people who stand up to the status quo or fight to free Israel from Rome.
His final statement makes no sense. “after three days he will rise again.”
He’ll what? Rise where? How?
And so they’re scared. Scared to ask questions. Scared to consider what their teacher is trying to tell them. They think they’ll be fighting with swords and spears. They want security. When Jesus wins the throne of David, they want to know that Jesus loved them best.
They don’t get it. I trust neither would any of us on the front side of resurrection.
They ask him to do for John and James whatever they ask of him. That’s what my son used to do when he wanted permission to do what he knew we wouldn’t permit. It’s a childish game.
When do we do that? When do we try to tell God what God should be doing? “Thy will be done,” becomes “my will be done.” We are such control freaks that we forget that God is in control and has a better view of life than we do.
Jesus asks them a good question. “What is it you want me to do for you?” He doesn’t say yes or no to their request. “Just spit it out. What’s on your mind?”
And when he hears the request, is he all that surprised? Is God all that surprised when we ask of God what we have no business asking? Make my life comfortable so I don’t have to suffer and help me become a more spiritual person. It’s when we struggle that we discover our spirituality. So, what will it be? Shallow or deep?
“You don’t know what you’re asking.” And neither do we. We yearn for peace while we struggle over gun control laws. We want to see the end to poverty without being a part of the solution.
Ralph Waldo Emerson was fond of saying, “’What will you have?’ quoth God; ‘pay for it, and take it.’”
James and John would eventually pay for it with their lives. Christians throughout the centuries have paid for it with their lives. We may not fear for our lives, but we have other fears that hold us back.
What will you have? What do you crave in your heart and soul? What is breaking your heart? Is it poverty or a bad marriage? Is it war or a body wracked with disease? Is it change that makes our world look so completely different or a deeply felt unhappiness?
What are you willing to pay? Will you give up control and hand it over to God, finally saying with depth of feeling, “Your will be done?” Will you escape from that prison in which you hold yourself? Will you place trust in God like a child? Will you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself?
Will you set aside your own sense of importance in order to be a servant?
I suggest that in your best moments, you do. Look back when you have forgotten your own needs in service of someone else. When have you felt yourself free from a life of routine and boredom and the sameness day after day? When have found a new center?
If you’re not there now, why not? Who or what has gotten in between you and God and caused you to demand the false security of greatness?
We yearn to be comforted and comfortable. We can’t know what that looks like until we’ve experienced discomfort. We pray for wealth and when we get it, we pray for something so much deeper. All too often we get what we pray for and then the price that goes with it.
If it sounds like I’m telling you to quit praying, I’m not. What I’m suggesting is that when we pray, we honestly and authentically say, “Not my will by yours be done.” That we enter into life with Christ knowing that there is joy to be found within the hard stuff. That when we quit asking Christ to walk with us, we walk with him and allow him to point out to us his call on our lives.
Most of us desire greatness. We want to be noticed in a positive light. We need to have our best efforts affirmed. Sometimes we get it, sometimes we get passed by. This is normal.
James and John didn’t simply want an “atta boy.” They wanted to know that when this battle was over there would be a place for them near their rabbi. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. I suggest that what they craved was assurance from Jesus that they would never be separated from him come what may.
Their journey will take them to Jerusalem, as promised. It will take them through the terror of Jesus’ arrest, the horror of his torture, the nightmare of crucifixion. They will find emptiness and heartache and abandonment on Friday. They will know joy like never before the following Sunday.
They will follow Jesus and they’ll know greatness. They will care more about following and serving than about greatness. They’ll drink Christ’s cup and they’ll die for it. Their greatness lies in their service, not their desires.
These past several weeks we’ve looked at Jesus’ Way of Suffering Love. When we decide to follow Jesus and serve him, we listen and learn: that true greatness comes when we deny ourselves to help others; that we can be grateful that Jesus won’t be squeezed into our mold of what he should “do”; that wealth must be rigorously managed or it will manage us; that when we accept the kingdom like a child possibilities abound.
Real life happens when we follow Jesus. True greatness happens. Life takes on new perspectives and is more exciting and is more grace-filled than when we sit on the sidelines waiting for God to serve us.
All glory and honor be to God.