Mark 10: 35-45
Have you ever heard the phrase: Be careful what you wish for- it might come true? I have heard this all my life from my parents. As a teenager many times when I said I wanted something or wished something would happen my parents would quote this to me- they had the wisdom and forethought my undeveloped mind and inexperienced life didn’t and the ability to see through their own experiences to the consequences of my wishes and choices.
This is the gist of what I see Jesus telling James and John. Here we have these two brothers who were the second two people called by Jesus to be disciples, part of Jesus’ inner circle, and they keep hearing Jesus tell them he is the Son of God and how he will be coming into his Kingdom. They are beginning to fully realize that they are among greatness. As many of us do when we drop names of powerful people we know, we are trying to show how important we are just by association- James and John want to be great too- just by knowing Jesus so intimately.Jesus responds by telling them- you have no idea what you are asking for- be careful what you wish for. Jesus knows what is coming, but they don’t.
James and John wanted to be “great” but they didn’t really understand what they were asking for. Great sometimes only looks great- from a distance- Ask Tiger Woods- no doubt one of the greatest golfers of all time- certainly of this generation. Ask John Edwards about his desire for greatness in the political world and if it was worth the damage it did to his family. Ask Rupert Murdock about his rise to greatness in the News Industry. Ask Johnny Cash or Marilyn Monroe what it’s like to be great- I bet they would all tell you, greatness is not as great as it seems. These people risked it all in the pursuit of a false sense of greatness- they let their egos cloud their judgment and their delusions of grandeur lead them to feel invincible and make poor decisions. They fell from greatness in front of our very eyes- into humiliation and shame and others lost their lives in that pursuit. We see these people as flawed human beings with tragic stories but it we are much more like them than we are different.Many of us want what they want- money, acceptance, love, power and recognition- society’s definition of greatness- maybe not on the same scale that they sought it but greatness none the less. Is it worth it? Each of these people sought greatness on their own merit, hard work and determination and sometimes in scandalous ways that in the end forced them to lose everything in the fall. The problem with this type of greatness is it always comes at a price.
Jesus asks James and John: “are you willing to pay the price?” Are you willing to drink the cup I will drink and be baptized with the Baptism that I am baptized with? James and John are not that much different than us- this one story shows us that they are flawed, arrogant, ambitious, short-sighted and Jesus chose them anyway (Barclay). They immediately without giving it a second thought say yes- we are able. They had no idea what they were asking for.James and John were under the same delusion many people are today about greatness being equated with power, wealth and influence. People in Biblical times often saw a king or emperor in this way- they had people waiting on them hand and foot, armies to fight for them, more possessions than they could count and sitting in a throne surrounded by a court with whom to share this greatness by association. Many people of that time also thought of the king as a god or at least God’s representative on earth (http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/Greatness.htm) so we can see why they were confused.
Jesus takes these flawed disciples and tries to teach them and us that this misguided image of greatness is distorted and inaccurate- it’s not all fine wine and expensive things and people loving you all the time. These things fall away- it’s only a delusion. Jesus reminds them that these people who seem so great- are actually not great people- they are tyrants, in power often times by force and use force and manipulation to maintain their false sense of security and power. This is not who we should aspire to be.Jesus uses this opportunity among many to try and correct this misconception about greatness. He teaches us that greatness comes not in having power over others, the size of our paycheck, the number of degrees on our wall, or the number of championships we win. Greatness comes in our willingness to humble ourselves in service for others.
Jesus is our role model for greatness and he shows us this by his own willingness to humble himself and sacrifice his life for us. He also chose flawed disciples to show us that we all have the ability to be great- as long as we are willing to be in service to others and put others needs before our own.Few people remember who won a little league game a few years ago but we will never forget the stories of sportsmanship and sacrifice. A few years ago during a baseball game a player with downs syndrome is put in the game- bottom of the ninth inning instead of just striking him out the opposing team’s pitcher steps closer to the plate and lobs it softly to make it easier to hit- He hit a ground ball but the short stop missed it on purpose, allowing it to roll into center field. The Center fielder picked it up and threw it over the head of the first baseman allowing him to run to second. The first baseman overthrew it again- allowing him to run to third and eventually score a run for his team. This team risked losing the game so that a person with a disability would get the chance to feel the success of hitting the ball and scoring a run. Or the team that carries a competitor around the bases after being hurt simply because she deserved it- these are examples selflessness trumping greatness.
One of the most beautiful images of how Jesus taught this is through the foot washing during the last supper. We see this as antiquated now and maybe it doesn’t hold the same power today as it did 2000 years ago but Jesus, the master and teacher, is cleaning the dirty, callused, smelly feet of his students. It is the equivalent of a CEO coming to the home of his lowest paid employee to clean their toilet.These are gestures of humility that we should continue to emulate.
All too often we, like the disciples get so caught up in who’s the greatest and which church is the best that we forget that instead of sitting in our warm, comfortable pews we should be trying to outdo one another in service and kindness- If you are going to compete-compete with other people and churches not on who has the nicer things or prettiest church but who can out serve the other- who can love the ”least of these” the most, who’s willing to sacrifice the most to for the greater good?Our faith is not a race to the finish line or a competition to see who has the best programs it’s about who can love the deepest and care the most for those in this world, who are uncared for and unloved. It’s about aiming not for the riches of this world but for speaking for those who don’t have a voice to speak for themselves and caring for those who can’t care for themselves. Any other desire for any other form of greatness is artificial and filled with opportunity to fail. If your greatness comes from serving Christ and our neighbor there is nowhere to go but up.
Often times when we are in service like this we are bothered because there is no external reward for this selfless ness and good behavior. There are not enough ata boys and thanks yous. We forget that as Christians we are called to be imitators of Christ and the reward is not for us. It is to bring Glory to God- not ourselves. Jesus didn’t serve others and die on the cross because he was going to be rewarded. He did it simply because he loves us and because he knew it would bring Glory to God.We need to follow this example- Do for others simply because we love them, love Jesus and want what is best for the kingdom of God here on earth. This is greatness and yes it sometimes comes at a price but we do it because Christ loved us first- not to earn a place in heaven, not to earn accolades, not to be great on our own merit but because God is Great. It is hard work to love in this way- Jesus gave his life for this love and James who was called James the Greater was also martyred for this love- the greatness is the legacy of those who have served before us and seen in the lives changed through this love.
God calls us to care for this earthly kingdom as our home, our mission field and all those who inhabit it to share the love of Christ and make all people feel welcome and safe in a world of uncertainty, fear and chaos.Jesus chose 12 flawed people to continue his mission here on earth and to build the Christian faith through them- he continues to choose us to do the same things today- What are we doing to further the kingdom of God? Jesus calls us to a life of service and maybe we won’t be martyred for our faith as James and Many of the other Apostles were but we are still commissioned to spread the love of God to others- through our words and our actions. This often times means taking risks- speaking to someone about Christ and facing ridicule and rejection, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and getting our hands dirty and sometimes our hearts broken when we share in the plight of others.
All this risk is worth it though……because it is a way of thanking God for loving us-something he didn’t have to do- something we don’t deserve but he loves us anyway. God cares for us anyway, provides for us, blesses us and hears our prayers not for what God gets in return but just because he loves.