James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. “But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. “But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” ~ Mark 10:35-45
Confession: I have a favorite drama student. I know teachers aren’t supposed to play favorites, and I generally try to treat all my students the same, but I have one student that is my favorite. Why? Because, hands down, he works harder than all the other students. He spends hours memorizing his lines, developing his character, and working to understand the full scope and impact of the play. Any moral implications he struggles with, to make sure what he is communicating to the audience is the best witness he can be for Christ. He asks intelligent questions and never tries to get out of practicing. Before rehearsals began for our current play, he went out and got the book, to gain an understanding of what the original author had intended. As students go, it’s really hard not to like ones like these the most.
But best of all, he never acts anything other than humble. He’s been getting lead roles as a high school student for several years now, and never trumpets his successes in front of the other students. In auditions, he is just as worried and nervous as the next kid, not sure of what part, if any, he will get. And sometimes, he elects not to participate in a play at all, because he wants to make sure he’s using his time wisely with his other extra curricular activities. (For those of you who teach – don’t you wish we could clone kids like this??)
In short, he chooses to act just the opposite of James and John in today’s passage.
James and John do what, at first glance, seems to be unthinkable: they waltz right up to Jesus and demand that He put them where they feel they should belong. As disciples, I’m sure they felt like they had given up a lot to follow Christ, and that this was their due. And while the other disciples get riled up over the issue in verse 41, I’m guessing it had more to do with the idea that each of them felt in some way they deserved to sit on Christ’s right or left.
Most of the time, when I read this passage, I kind of scoff at James and John. I mean, really, who does that? But then I thought, it isn’t that I’ve never done this – I’ve just chosen not to voice it in the way they did, in front of witnesses, recorded for posterity. Haven’t we all felt slighted at some point or another, griped that our hard work was overlooked? Expected or demanded better treatment, because we “deserve” it? Mumbled under our breath about how some people get everything, and here we are, getting nothing? We may not have the opportunity to march up to Jesus and command He put us in the prime seats, but most of the time, we sure act out with the same demanding attitude.
Jesus doesn’t look at them and say, “Who do you think you are?” like I would if I were in His shoes. Instead, He uses the opportunity to teach them a valuable lesson. “Whoever wishes to be first shall be slave of all,” is something that rings true thousands of years later. If you always have a need to be first, the best, top dog, you eventually become slave to that need, unable to help anyone or do anything other than feed the emotional greediness inside of your heart.
So today, stay humble. Don’t expect to be served, but to serve. Be ready with a helping hand. And most of all, remember that we are here to live as Christ did, and to be ready to give our lives for His glory.