Two brothers, James and John, came to Jesus with a request,
Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.As a kid I remember learning about saints. And many consider these two sons of Zebedee to be saints. They were among the very first to follow Jesus, after all, they must be saints. But after reading the story it's clear that saints are very human. Jesus' first disciples, just like his current followers, are imperfect humans. God calls people to walk in the light of his love but that doesn't mean Jesus' followers don't still wrestle with temptation and misunderstand their place in God's kingdom. The people Jesus chose as the first building blocks of the church weren't exempt from surprisingly ordinary temptations--from the lust for power or the greed for prestige. So when they asked Jesus for the place of honor. He responded so clearly,
(Mark 10:37 NRSV)
You do not know what you are asking.They really didn't have a clue. They could see that Jesus would be lifted up--but they couldn't foresee that Jesus would be lifted up on the cross and not on a throne. And Jesus pushed them to consider their words. He knew a cross was coming before the glory of resurrection.
Mark 10:38 NRSV
Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?They replied confident they could face whatever Jesus could. They had no clue about his suffering, death, and rising. They called him Rabbi, teacher. But he is more than a great teacher. He is the way into God's presence. He didn't tell these first followers to make themselves holy or worthy--no instead Jesus invited them to serve. From the earliest days Christians have understood Jesus as the first and greatest servant as the high priest who gave his life. The writer of Hebrews explained it this way,
Mark 10:38 NRSV
Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”Jesus is the way. He is the one who gave his life for his followers.
Hebrews 5:5 NRSV
Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.Jesus suffering, cross and empty tomb, this is what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God. Suffering, serving, giving his life made Jesus the great high priest. And we in turn are invited in our lives not to seek for greatness but to find it while we serve.
Hebrews 5:8-10 NRSV
Human beings search for greatness. We want to be significant. James and John were no different. But somehow we recoil when we see people so clearly search out for a place of prestige. Jesus' other disciple balked at the the thought that these two would go ahead the kingdom. And it was clear that Jesus offering all his followers a very different definition of greatness: service.
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 manyService is not the way to heaven or to holiness--rather it's meant to be our way of life--and along the way, as we serve, we'll see our place in God's kingdom.
Mark 10:44 NRSV
Peace, and thanks for reading,