One of the reasons I love reading the different gospel accounts of Jesus life on earth is the pictures of people around him and how Jesus dealt with them. James and John were among the first ones called as disciples of Jesus. He obviously loved them and possibly was their first cousin physically. He called them the “Sons of Thunder” because of their temperament. Yet they were devoted disciples. When we look around church and think to ourselves, “Boy these folks have lots of struggles in their life” we need to go back and read the Gospel of Mark one more time.
In Mark 9:38-41 John was the speaker. I know he is known as the apostle of love later on in his life, but that wasn’t the case when he was a young man. John said to Jesus, “We saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told them to stop, because they were not one of us.” Doesn’t that sound like it could have been said in a local church anywhere? He can’t be for real. If he isn’t one of us surely it was the mind set that we often have. Jesus corrected them with the statement, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.” It has long intrigued me that we tend to know well Jesus statement, “He who is not with me is against me” but a ton of those who know that verse don’t realize that the one given by Mark here in chapter nine is there. Both are true. But it is somehow easier to think about the exclusive one that says one who isn’t for me is against me and far more challenging to think of the followers of Christ inclusively as “He who is not against me is for me.”
It is in the very next chapter of Mark that James and John together make their plea to Jesus that when he comes into his kingdom that the two of them may sit on his right and left hands. They long for the places of honor. They certainly didn’t understand the nature of the kingdom Jesus came to establish. They were looking for an earthly kingdom with a warrior king and they wanted places of honor. When Matthew tells this same story in Matthew 20, he has their mother with them, making the request for her sons. That makes the whole thing even more interesting. She may have been a helicopter parent before her time. Jesus informed them that it wasn’t his to give and would be given by the Father to the ones it was prepared for. Of course, it didn’t take long for the word to spread among the other apostles that James and John had made such a request and of course, they were angry and frustrated about it. Wouldn’t you have been? Imagine your son or grandson playing on a baseball team and you learn that one of the parents has been pushing the coach to allow his boy to be the pitcher in the big game, even though you know he isn’t even half as good a pitcher as your son or grandson. How will you react?
Well, the other disciples were indignant. They didn’t like it a bit. Why do you suppose it was so frustrating to them? Was it because they too longed for that spot but hadn’t had the courage or the help of their mother to ask?
Jesus was always the master at such times as well as all others. He called the whole bunch together. “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. NO SO WITH YOU!” Notice his first response wasn’t to call them a bunch of babies that needed to grow up. (Which would have been my first thought). Instead, Jesus recognized where this mentality arises. In the world, among those who aren’t believers in Jesus and do not try to follow him, it is normal for one person to have authority over another. It is natural in business, sports or family life for someone to be the leader, the manager, the coach, the boss or in politics to be the President. Everything seems to operate that way. So why wouldn’t you expect things to work that way in church among followers of Jesus?
Because Jesus isn’t building a business, a team, an army, or some organization. He was building a body, a community or a family. Which part of your body is in charge of the rest of the body? They all work together to accomplish what you want it to do. Jesus said, “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” He turned the whole idea upside down. The greatest aren’t the ones sitting on the right and left by the throne. The greatest followers of Jesus are the ones who serve others all over the place. The ones who are first are slaves of all the rest. How can that be? It doesn’t make sense, does it? Don’t people naturally want to be in charge? Don’t we naturally wish for recognition for our good works? Yes, but the church was meant to be a different kind of place. Too often, it has instead followed the very plan that Jesus said it wouldn’t. But if we really want to be the church of Jesus, we must take the order and plan he has and follow it.
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus didn’t give some directive from heaven that required nothing from him. Instead, he came to demonstrate the very heart he wished his followers to have. He came as a servant. He gave himself to serve, and ultimately to sacrifice as a ransom for us all. Wouldn’t it be amazing to be part of a church like that? The only way it happens is for us, individually and personally to commit to being the servants, the slaves of others who push others forward instead of ourselves. Amazing!