Sometimes, it is a challenge to find something relatable to contemporary life in our Gospel stories. However, our appointed lesson this week contains a situation we probably all have experienced - a desire to be recognized and given a position of prestige. The passage in Mark’s gospel that we read this week has to do with Jesus’ disciples, people we recognize as saints, but saints who sometimes behaved in some unsaintly ways. Point in case, the internal squabbling and rivalries that existed among them, the members of Jesus’ inner circle.
As they jockey for power, prestige, and status, their individual self-interests rise to the top, replacing for the moment the mission to which Jesus has called them. People of faith always come out looking hypocritical and shallow when they allow mission to be corrupted by selfish desires. This was true occasionally of the disciples mirrored by what we sometimes see today in our own world and sometimes even in our own church. I know I have been guilty of this from time to time, how about you?
In our lesson this tendency to competitiveness and self-interest is shown first by brothers John and James, who moved to pre-empt Jesus’ other followers by asking him for special treatment in heaven. When pressed to declare what they wished, they asked Jesus to grant them the honor of sitting closest to him in His Kingdom, one on his right and one on his left, effectively bestowing upon them the status of being the first among his disciples for all eternity! That’s asking a lot!
When the other ten disciples heard of John and James ploy, they were livid. So, aware of the tension within the ranks, Jesus 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. 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.”
Jesus teaches that in the Kingdom all of us are invited equally to share, power, prestige, status and leadership – but all of these are redefined to be understood in the context of love, respect and service. Glory comes not from acquisition but from sharing what we have and by dedicating ourselves to serving others. From Jesus we learn that we receive by giving, we lead by serving and find ourselves by losing ourselves for the sake of others.