35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
What did you want to be when you grow up?
What did you answer? teacher, firefighter, astronaut, doctor, race car driver, business woman, musician, writer.
No budding servants? None of you dressed up as a butler or a maid, a servant?
Even within that group closest to Jesus, the disciples–did they want to be servants? No
James and John come to Jesus with a question one day, well not just any day. The gospel writer Mark tells us that Jesus and his followers were on the road to Jerusalem. And just as today, Jerusalem was a place of tension and potential violence. Jesus knew this and as they are walking there, Jesus tells his followers, his disciple one more time, that the priests, the scribes, the religious leaders would turn on him. That he would be tortured and executed by the Roman authorities. Sounds great and glorious, right?
And almost as if not listening, or as if in complete denial–James and John go up to him and ask a favor. They want to sit at his left and at his right when Jesus is glorified. Jesus can’t promise them that. But he does promise that they, if they follow him, they will suffer, but he can’t give them the answer to that particular prayer request to sit in glory on his right an left.
Now hearing this, whether or with their own two ears or with hearsay, the res of the disciples react, well just about like any one of us would react. Peter and the others are annoyed and pissed off at James and John. Who do these two think they are? Do these two guys think they are better? Do they think they deserve these places of honor more than the others? Just who do these two think they are?
Who do they think they are? Who do any of them think they are? Who do we think we are?
I’m not so sure about that. I don’t quite think so.
For two weeks many years ago, I lived in a home in Cuernevaca, Mexico. That family had maid who cleaned and cooked–who took care of us. She was there in the morning and left sometime in after the evening meal was served. Now I had never experienced this before. Oh yeah, of course I know all about servers–who prepare and serve food at restaurants. I have seen and talked to housekeepers at hotels. But a real life servant. This was different, I was so unprepared for this and completely uncomfortable. After all, I don’t need anyone to spend their life cooking for me; their days cleaning up after myself. So I felt bad for her; I was uncomfortable around her, I didn’t need her. I could take care of myself.
It’s years later, and after much living and learning, it now occurs to me that my reaction was most likely a by-product of our history of slavery built upon the racist teachings that there is this falsity called race–that there are different races of people. There is only one race–the human race. But racism teaches us that certain people, groups of people are by nature somehow inferior to us. So being a servant is bad. It means that there is something wrong with you. Another way of thinking about this. Remember how I spoke about the family having a servant? We have servants–as if a servant is a possession–a thing–to be had, to be owned. Being a servant is bad. So we who can, who are able and capable whether economically or physically we’d rather do service than be a servant. Doing acts of service, especially for those who are needy is good. Service good. Servant bad.
Now if that’s all following Jesus is about–it it were just doing–doing nice things, doing good things, doing servicy things for others. We could simply check off a Jesus to do list–brought in some food for the pantry (check),
wrote a couple of letters to my legislator (check)
put a check in the offering basket (double check).
And we can feel good about ourselves, because we are so able, because we feel that we are good enough, smart-enough, and doggone it people will like us.
Problem is, that doesn’t quite sound like Jesus. Especially today.
What Jesus said this morning it really is different. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Don’t get me wrong, doing good, doing acts of service that’s great and all, but and I’m going to be brutally honest here–it’s not enough; it’s never enough.
We are really good at convincing ourselves that by somehow doing all this, that we are going to be always and forever able to take care of ourselves, and we can be loved, and we can feel so good. But that’s not just not the way it is.
You see, in that nice home, with that nice family, I didn’t want that woman to take care of me. I would always be there trying to help, and make sure that my stuff was taken care of, that my stuff was cleaned up, even more than I did in my own home. I was always wiping things up. Until. Until, I got sick, and I’m not talking a little bit sick like a cold, not even like the walking pneumonia I just had. I am talking sick that makes such a mess for days–that I couldn’t clean up, there was no possibility of taking care of myself. When I couldn’t do for me, she was there. And I learned to appreciated someone being for me when I couldn’t do.
Sure Jesus came into this world and did great things–taught, healed, fed. But let’s be honest a lot of people–Mother Theresa, Buddha, Dalai Lama’s, philanthropists have done just as great things.
Jesus isn’t just calling us to follow, to do this, that, or the other good thing. Jesus didn’t just come to serve–to do, but to be.
As Paul says in his letter to the church in Galatia: For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.
Martin Luther in 1520 said it in his treatise: on the Freedom of a Christian:
A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none. A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.
Not just to do acts of love, not for us to just cross off things on a Jesus to do list, but Jesus on the cross for us, for what we can’t do for ourselves. Jesus is a servant to free us–to free us from ourselves from our incessant trying to take care of ourselves, from our constant struggle to make ourselves feel better. Jesus frees us from the eternal quest to earn love by doing good, thus freeing us to be loved and to truly love.
Carl Jung wrote: “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” And you whatever it is you (we) wanted to do when you grew up, it’s not too late, for you to be who Jesus is calling us to be. No matter how old you are you are still becoming who Jesus is calling you to be. So church, people of God, “Will you let me be your servant”.
I don’t think I can do this by myself–let us sing, say, and pray together. Will you let me be Your Servant.