Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
“Hey, I want you to do me a favor.” When I say that to you, how do you respond? Are you inclined at all to say, “Sure” without hearing what the favor is? That’s essentially what James and John asked of Jesus. “Hey, Jesus. We want you to do us a favor.” Despite all that Jesus has revealed to them about the coming of the kingdom of God and the miracles they have witnessed, James and John are most concerned with their reward.
They are essentially asking Jesus to tell them that they are the greatest among the disciples (and you better believe they’ll make sure the others hear about it). James and John have heard Jesus’ message, but they haven’t listened to it. When Jesus asks if they are up for the sacrifices they will have to make to have such a reward, the brothers eagerly assure Him that they are. However, Jesus says, “You may be able to make those sacrifices and you will. But the seats at my right and my left are not mine to grant. And you shouldn’t be interested in them anyway. If that’s all you guys can think about, then you missed the point.”
Even though that’s how Jesus answers the request, the other disciples are angry when they hear what’s happening. They might be mad because James and John asked such a question or they might be upset because they didn’t think of it first. But Jesus replies to all of 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
What is Jesus telling the disciples? What is He saying to us? “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.” Jesus offers the reminder that most people with power let it go to their head. Think of the other rulers we read about in the Gospels, Herod Antipas beheading John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate washing his hands of Jesus, Herod the Great and the slaughter of the innocents. The disciples knew that power did not necessarily mean goodness. And having power certainly did not mean being in the right place with God.
We too know people whose power goes to their head, people who take a position of authority as an opportunity to do whatever they please. Sometimes we suffer under those people. Sometimes we are those people, using and abusing the power we have in our workplace or at home, in a volunteer position or in an appointment.
Jesus goes on to say that kind of behavior has no place in God’s kingdom and between His followers, “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” In order to achieve greatness in God’s kingdom, we must become like children. Being a child is different than being childish and seeking our own way.
Rather, we are called to innocence, to openness and to the main lesson of childhood- sharing. As followers of Christ, to show that we do share in His cup at His table and in his baptism, we are called to share the story of what God has done for us. We are called to share the gifts that God has given us. We are called to serve the neighbors God has placed around us. This isn’t a slavish service wherein we take pride in being beaten down, but a joyful service that bears witness to the joy and hope that has been poured into our hearts through Christ Jesus.
The seed of that joy is evident in what Jesus says next, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” The point of that slightly confusing reading from Hebrews is to remind us that Jesus is different from anyone else whom God had sent to God’s people. Jesus is a high priest, but His place also as the servant and the Son of God makes his service and his sacrifice different than what any other priest could achieve. Jesus did not have to ransom himself, but He came for the children of God.
We, with James and John, are precisely those children. We see the world’s models of power and we can be tricked into believe they are more than fool’s gold. We can be derailed by the power of the forces that oppose God and come to think that we are unworthy of grace and mercy. We can get a little power and we can all too easily forget whence it came. We, like sheep, go astray. And we, like children, can easily get lost.
So Jesus reminds us here that the path is one of service and humbleness. We are called to a vision of mission to God’s whole creation. We must work together to achieve God’s mission for our lives, for the church and for the world. And we are able to do that because of the One who gave his life for us.
So that we would be free to be servants, Jesus came and showed what service looks like. He came and reminded the disciples and world of what real power looks. He came so that we might know the peace that passes all understanding. When he had done all those things, Jesus died for all. In his last act of service, Jesus returned to the Father and said, “I’m home. And I brought the children with me.”