“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” — Mark 10:45
This has to be one of my favorite exchanges between Jesus and the disciples. James and John, the brothers, have concocted a scheme. They understand that Jesus is this really big deal, and they figure that if they get in now it’s like getting in on the ground floor, just as things are taking off. They can ride this train all the way to the top, but they’ve got to get in while the getting is good. James and John ask for seats at the table of power, but not just any seats. They want to be Jesus right and left hand men. They are so human. They are asking what many of us would ask. The draw to positions of importance and power can be very strong. I don’t think we are supposed to see their request as terribly nefarious. They are not out for ill-gotten gain, or power to be used in evil ways. They seem at least partially innocent based on the way the ask for Jesus to fulfill their request. The request in verse 35 could come from the lips of a child, ‘We are going to ask for something, please give us whatever we ask for.’ They preface the request with a supplication for complete indulgence. The whole thing has a ring of ignorant innocence about it.Jesus responds with concern, not anger (which also provides a clue to at least a partially innocent or naive request). He asks if they can face the life he faces. Their offer to follow him pleases Jesus. He accepts their pledge. When we read this section we frequently think Jesus is concerned about their ability to handle the suffering of his cup and baptism. Another reading might suggest that Jesus is concerned not that they might turn away from following him in the face of suffering, but that he is genuinely concerned about the suffering they will face. It is an empathetic reaction. Jesus encourages James and John to stay the course, but explains that the seats at his right and left are already designated (to whom is a mystery left unresolved).
Then the story gets really human. The other disciples find out about the request and are jealous. People are the same everywhere. But Jesus is not having it. He reprimands the disciples in a way that he does not reprimand James and John. Their disgruntled reaction does not have the ring of innocence to it. Their reaction is much more base. Pride and envy were considered the worst of the seven deadly sins. We see the disciples headed in that direction and Jesus throws the brakes on. He explains that the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdoms the disciples are familiar with. Instead the call from Jesus is to be a servant. Indeed Jesus says, even the Lord of the Kingdom (the Son of Man), serves, to the very point of giving up his own life.
This is a powerful story that turns our notions of the way the world works upside-down. This Kingdom we are a part of when we follow Jesus isn’t what we are used to. Find a way to live out your citizenship in God’s Kingdom and serve someone today.