“35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. 36 And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ 37 And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’. 38 But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 39 They replied, ‘We are able’. Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared’. 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’”.
Between last week’s lesson of the rich, young ruler (easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle) and this week’s reading of the Disciples arguing over how much greatness they deserve and can expect, we miss the third time that Jesus speaks of his impending death and resurrection.
The New Kingdom is coming through suffering and the cross, yet the Disciples are caught up arguing about “Who is the greatest?” “What is lawful?” and “What can you do for us?” At this point Jesus is preaching an unheard word, “I’m going to suffer, die and rise on the third day”.
Request of a Privilege
“Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory”.
James and John request privileged places of authority in seats beside Jesus. It seems they have completely missed the point of all that Jesus has said and done so far. But they recognise that glorification awaits Him. They recognise that the authority He has shown in his ministry will lead to something big: power, royalty, and probably fame.
The Promise of Jesus
A powerless “King”
Jesus chastises the Disciples for their lack of understanding and reiterates that violence and death await him in Jerusalem: He will die an utterly despised and as a powerless King. He shows that all those who wield power in the world will do all they can to protect themselves. Jesus addresses their desire for power and prestige and comments on the nature of human power: the kind of power that will ultimately crush him. He teaches them on the meaning of his death as well.
Authority and Service
James and John failed to recognise another kind of authority; one which is silent, loving and hidden. That is the authority of powerless love.
This kind of authority waits, builds trust, and often watches in anguish, like a parent watching a child make mistakes. Jesus saw authority as an opportunity to serve. He himself set the example.
Jesus believed that authority should not be given to those who seek it, but only to those who have proved they are willing to serve. To serve, one must be ready to “drink the cup” that Jesus drank, the cup of sacrifice and suffering.
The Circle of Disciples
“When the other 10 heard this, they began to feel indignant with James and John.”
James and John are not the only Disciples enticed by visions of grandeur, the others are annoyed that they did not get in there first! Jesus corrects their perspective by showing the Roman authorities as negative. They regularly overpower and tyrannise others. They rely on coercion and control to maintain their dominance.
The Example of Jesus
“For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve.”
This is a powerful exposition of the significance of the death of Jesus. Parallels have been drawn several times between the way of Jesus and the way his followers are called to follow. Here we have a clear distinction. The Disciples may well suffer rejection and even death but only Jesus’ death is “a ransom for many”. This phrase alerts the reader to the deeper significance of events about to happen. The outcome of the story has already been anticipated in the three references to Jesus’ death: “After three days he will rise”.
In contrast, Jesus meets an unlikely type of disciple in his last moments alive as he hangs on the Cross. He is in the company of two thieves hanging on his right and his left. One of the criminals who was hanged there kept deriding him and saying: "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" But the other rebuked him: “We indeed have been condemned justly. We are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong". Then He said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom". And Jesus replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise".
How can a conversation go on in the midst of this pain and suffering and mayhem?
Consider the humility of the thief who acknowledged his sinfulness and accepted his punishment by making a contrast between his state and that of the blameless Christ. The repentant thief got the message the Disciples had failed to get, and he was rewarded with a place in Heaven.
Look at the pictures of some of our politicians: How much do you think they spend on PR and making themselves look good?
Should we reflect on how much we invest in making ourselves look good in front of family and friends?
How much energy and time do we spend on ensuring that we have the edge on others?
Those in the public eye generally make no secret of the fact that they have PR, but we may be our very own PR team; and we don’t need to because God loves us, warts, and all.
Maybe we should all look in the mirror and take a good, hard look at ourselves and learn to love what we see there. God loves the very person we are looking at, without any of the fake pretences people use to make themselves look better.
This Gospel reading highlights the lure of power and glory that can ensnare us all, not just James and John. A similar Gospel was read on 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, when we heard of Jesus teaching his Disciples that the greatest are those who serve all. Clearly, we need to hear this message again!
O, Heavenly Father,
give me a heart like the Heart of Jesus,
a heart more ready to serve than be served,
a heart moved by compassion,
towards the weak and oppressed,
a heart set upon the coming of your Kingdom
in the world of men and women.
Church of Scotland Minister and Theologian
“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve”
· What have I done this week to serve those in need?
· What keeps me from serving God more wholeheartedly?
· How can I serve practically?
· Do I really want to make a difference? Do I care enough?
· Do I ever wake up in the morning thinking “What can I accomplish today?”
· How do I manage my own ego? (Think James and John).
. Do I serve or self-serve?
 Mark 9: 33-37  Mark 10: 2-9; 17-20  Mark 10: 35-37  Mark 8: 31-33  Mark 10: 41-45  Mark 10: 42  Matthew 20: 20-28; Mark 10: 35-45  Mark 8: 31-38; 9: 31; 10: 34  Luke 23: 39-43  Mark 9: 30-37