Mark 10:35-45 – The 21st Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, October 18, 2015
“Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” (Mark 10:37)
“Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.”
You know what I mean. They didn’t whisper. They didn’t wait for a private moment. They didn’t rise early for a pre-dawn and private stroll with Jesus. James and John, together or apart, rarely cared who overheard them. Now, don’t get me wrong, those two brothers are good guys, and truly—truly—care about others. I’d go to hell and back with them. In fact, in following Jesus, it often seems like we’ve all walked into dangerous places, and have spoken words that put targets on our backs. I’ve seen how the Roman soldiers glare at us, wondering if we were threats. The Pharisees don’t hide their frowns, their dagger eyes searching for weaknesses in Jesus.
John and James are my friends. They are like brothers to me.
But they are arrogant. They are. You understand, don’t you? Haven’t you known people—those you trust and love—who drive you batty because they impress you with their generosity and then say or do something cringe-worthy in the next breath?
No, it didn’t surprise me what those two asked of Jesus.
Arrogance will have its way.
It also didn’t surprise me how the other ten reacted to James and John’s irritating, just-loud-enough request.
All who follow Jesus are individuals. We have our different peculiarities and preferences. We have odd habits (like Judas and his daily declarations of our available money) and endearing ways (like Simon Peter who can’t complete a sentence whenever he’s near a pretty woman). No two of us are alike.
Except sometimes. Especially when reacting to something they’d all thought, but didn’t have enough courage or callousness to voice it out loud. So when James and John spoke, they were requesting what the others had already considered. There was one Jesus, and therefore only two seats beside him when the promised time of glory arrived. It was the easy math of their longing: one spot on the right and one of the left. First come, first serve? Would the chair be reserved for the smartest or kindest of us? The most humble or the least greedy? Or was the seating arrangement in the land of glory, in the time of God’s righteousness, already preordained? Who knew?
John and James wanted to know.
And so the ten seethed with anger. They regretted not speaking more quickly. They were jealous of the brothers’ arrogance. They’d all been keeping separate scores about whom Jesus favored, but now all felt like losers.
You can almost hear and see them, can’t you? You’ve known angry people, haven’t you? They kick at the dirt. They shake their fists. You’ve probably observed two people with different languages trying to communicate. At least one, and often both, assumed that if you grew louder and angrier, the other would eventually understand. Humans are buffoons. Anger clutches us like a beggar demanding coins.
John and James asked what the others desired.
All of their voices became a cacophony of selfishness.
Didn’t they hear what Jesus said?
Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave to all?
Jesus wasn’t with us to be served, but to serve . . .
I heard him.
I am not arrogant, seeking to be included first.
I am not angry, fearing I’ll be excluded first.
I am the thirteenth disciple. Unlucky? No, for I am fortunate to be a follower of the Nazarene. The dusty journeys between villages and the venomous stares of the foreign soldiers don’t bother me. I can ignore the Pharisees’ crude gossip about us. I listen. I watch. I learn. Like Jesus, I welcome the children. Inspired by Jesus, I share my portions of water and food at every opportunity. I have—and please this isn’t a boast—handed my cloak to a blind man. When I shiver in the cold, that memory warms me. If you met me, I think you’d find me a likeable fellow.
I am not arrogant . . . and yet I am afraid.
I am not angry . . . and yet I am anxious.
How can I claim Jesus’ way when serving others frightens me so? But it’s worse than fear. If I truly serve my neighbor, won’t she or he see the real me? I know my failures. I know my hypocrisy. But I don’t want you to know them . . .
Why don’t I just leave? While James and John defend their request, and the other ten howl and squabble and act offended, why not vanish into the crowd? I could just walk away.
No one will miss me.
Or, as the arrogance and anger is replaced by apologies (as so often happens), why not remain when they troop after Jesus, all eagerly heading for the next village? They go; I stay.
No one will miss me.
Then Jesus glances at me. His calm-in-the-storm eyes search mine. Lingering. Welcoming. Trusting.
I am the least of them. I am the worst of them.
And yet still wanted and needed.