Dear James and John; a reflection on Mark 10:32-45

As they were going up to Jerusalem, Jesus began to tell them about how he would soon suffer and die, and after three days he would rise.

And James and John came to Him and said, “Master, we want you to do for us whatever we want.”  And Jesus asked them what it was they wanted him to do for them.  “Grant,” they said, “that we may sit at your right hand and at your left, in your glory.”   And He said to them, “you do not know what you are asking for.”….. “for the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  (Mark 10: 32-45, summarized and paraphrased.)


Have you not been listening? Have you walked with the Master these three years and still not heard what Jesus and his lifework are all about?

You want to sit on the velvet cushions on the thrones to the right and left of Jesus when he becomes the great and acclaimed ruler of the world.

But you do not know what you are asking for.

Can you drink of the cup from which Jesus drinks? Can you really? Can you make yourself vulnerable to receive all the grief and anguish and pain of the whole world? Can you drink all the rage, all the murder, all the greed, all the hunger, all the confusion and sickness and war of this world with me? Can you drink of this bitter, overflowing cup? The cup the Master himself will pray might pass him by, in the garden of Gethsemane?

James…….John… …You say you can. But you do not know what you are asking for.

Are you really willing to be baptized with the baptism with which Jesus is baptized, to seek never your own comfort and wellbeing every moment and instead to give all that up for the sake of others, to abandon your personal likes and dislikes, to be public when you wish you could hide, to become a public laughingstock, to be the butt of jokes and have your name tossed around as a casual joke from century to century? To be scourged and spat upon? Are you really willing?

You say you will, in order to sit at the right hand and at the left hand of Jesus, in his glory. You’d do anything for that. But you do not know what you are asking for.

James……John……. You are looking at Jesus so eagerly, you say you would do anything to be with Him in my glory. But He cannot help you to get a posh position. You do not understand what Jesus’ glory is.

Your master is great. He is great indeed. He is greater than the high priest in the temple – he is the greatest of high priests, not of the order of Levi like the priests of the temple but of a much more ancient and mysterious order, like Melchizedek of old whom even Abraham paid tithes and honors to. For your master Jesus is greater even than Abraham. Your master is not like other high priests, who lately have been appointed by the emperor, to serve at his bidding. No, your master is the greatest of High Priests, called by God to stand between God and humanity to offer sacrifice for sin.

Your Master Jesus does indeed have glory. His glory is to become the heart of God’s mercy made visible to all people. His glory is to love you so much that He lives for your salvation, dies to show you God’s love, and rises to bring you into God’s kingdom.

You cannot know all this now, James and John, but you will know later..

You will know that His glory is to be bound, and led away outside the city walls. His glory is not a throne with seats of honor on his right hand and his left, as you suppose. His glory is to be nailed to a cross, to become a curse, and in that glory He will have at His right hand and His left those whom His Father has chosen, two thieves, two common criminals, two lawbreakers. Jesus is to be flanked right and left, not by his familiar friends, but instead by the unworthy and the dishonorable, For God honors the unworthy and dishonorable of the world, the least of us dear human beings, honors them by placing Jesus near them, alongside them to offer God’s pardon and mercy to them as well. Because they need Him.

James……..John……….You simply cannot know these things now. But you will understand them later. You will drink your share of this cup. You will experience the baptism Jesus will experience. In God’s time.

But just now, James and John, you will experience the anger of your friends, because the others are furious with you just now, James and John. They are mad because you dared to ask for what they secretly wanted also. They are mad because you sought a place above the rest, as though you were better than they are. They too might have asked for what you asked for, but they did not. Now they are angry at you because they are confused and can’t quite manage to be angry at themselves for wanting the same things you do. We’re all like you really, James and John. We are all competitive like you, jockeying for the best seats, for the recognition, because at our core we are all just a little uncertain whether God really does love us and we want to be reassured.

James and John, even though Jesus has told you that he is going to suffer, all of your friends imagine that being the greatest leads to power and prestige, lands and houses, with other, lesser people bowing to you and offering you sweet cakes and bribes if you will just put in a good word for them with your Master. But your Master is not like other rulers. He does not sit on a throne apart from His people. Instead, your Master is a servant who lives and dies in the midst of his people. He gives his life to offer them – and you- a different kind of wealth . Your master lives and dies and rises to bring you your true riches: righteousness and mercy, the forgiveness of sins, and the love of God. Your master will live and die and rise again, so that you may live knowing you are loved by God and you belong to God.

Jesus honors those who day by day do small things for others with great love. The one who cares for a sick relative or friend. The one who volunteers in his or her free time for the sake of others. These seem small, even insignificant in the world’s eyes but they are great in God’s eyes.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be great! Be great lovers of God! Be great lovers of humanity! Make your lives into signs of God’s love for the people of this world. If you want to be great, all of you, become great servants, like Jesus. Jesus is the great High Priest and His call is to mend humanity’s relationship with God. As for you, James and John, you and all the rest and all those who will come after you, you all together are a community of priests, called to be bringers of God’s compassion and peace wherever there is brokenness. You did not choose this. Jesus chose you and He sends to bring the compassion of God into your world.

People of God, we all are priests. We are signs of God’s love in the world. All of us are called, like Jesus, to be holy servants, full of prayer, seeking to bring God’s peace into the midst of strife, seeking to bring God’s love in the midst of hate, seeking to bring God’s hope where there is despair.

So go out with humility. Go out with obedience. Go out with compassion. Go out with zeal. Go out with prayer. Go out with all your heart, imperfect people who are lovers of Jesus.

For Jesus has redefined greatness. Only in serving as Jesus served is there greatness.   Amen.

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