32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
It is important that we read these verses today. They sit just above what we have just read from Mark. It is important to notice this contrast.
“They will mock, spit upon, flog, kill him – and then he will rise.” However, in the very next sentence we hear, “teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
At this point in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is literally becoming the tip of the spear. Jesus is leading the disciples from Lake Region of Galilee to Jerusalem, and as they travel Jesus occasionally explains to them what will happen in the days to come.
And now, after his third and final foreshadowing of the horrific events of the Passion as spoken from Jesus’ own mouth, we hear, “allow us to sit on your right and your left in your glory.” James and John are revealing their “grasping” tendencies, and their need to see themselves at the center of things.
Given the Ten Disciples grow angry with James and John, it begs the question, have James and John actually heard anything that Jesus has been saying? Perhaps James and John have been too distracted with the importance of their own roles in what is unfolding around them. Perhaps they have been editing, filtering, what has been said; hearing only what they want to hear. Hoping for an eventual conclusion that will mark their own significant contributions and signatures to the Gospel project.
Scholar NT Wright points out “the reason James and John misunderstand Jesus is exactly the same as the reason why many subsequent thinkers, down to our own day, are desperate to find a way of having Jesus without having the cross as well: the cross calls into question all human pride and glory.”
Some scholars have speculated that James and John are innocents; they simply don’t know what they don’t know. They find themselves after so many miles, so many moments, so much experience, still standing high on a precipice of ignorance, about to take a trust fall into reality.
When Jesus fails to give James and John that which they seek, there must have been something about Jesus that would compel them to continue following him. They do not get what they want, their friends are angry with them, yet James and John do not abandon the project of following Jesus. I believe there is a doorway here for our lives.
James and John have reasons to abandon the Gospel project; however, they do not abandon it. In the midst of not receiving the particulars for which they are hoping, seats on the right and the left, James and John continue following Jesus; they follow knowing that their agendas will not be met.
Honestly, where in our lives, or how many of us, will follow anyone blindly especially if our agendas are not going to be guaranteed in the prospect? Yet this is what happens when Jesus becomes mixed up in people’s lives, their motives, their agendas. That which seemed impossible is possible; that which seemed necessary and needful is brushed aside and replaced by something previously unimaginable.
James and John are living through a transformation; the same transformation that takes place in any life that will be given to Christ. We come to Jesus with an expectation, an agenda, that we assume is licit and within reason; perhaps it is fashioned on the notion that serving Christ should somehow “shore-up” the good reputation and prominence, the esteem, with which we are regarded both in the Church and the culture.
I believe that anyone following the risen and living Christ will find themselves challenged in that approach. The longer we follow, the more we learn, generally our expectations are challenged and we find that we too must accept a transformation. Over time, or perhaps in a moment, we realize that to be a follower of Jesus is not to simply make one’s own journey through life, with God included as an addendum. Actually, it is the other way round.
CS Lewis, “Human History is simply the long terrible story of a person trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
In those places, especially the community of faith, where we would appoint ourselves as leaders, we are called to be servants one to another; surrendering that cherished right and left seat to someone else. Giving up the preferable seat; giving up the agenda to which we have attached our expectations of others, and discovering God’s agenda for us as we seek to become more Christ-like, more servant-like, in our lives. The promise is that as we become “less” of something in our own eyes, we will become “more” in the eyes of God; a transformation wherein lay our ultimate joy and peace.
There is a freedom in no longer holding God, and others, hostage with our expectations and agendas; it is the freedom of laboring without carrying the weight of our own world on our backs. It is the freedom of laboring, of living as a servant, so that Christ is glorified first in our lives.
Like the old saying, “When we quit worrying about who gets the credit, there is no limit to what we might accomplish together.” When we serve one another rather than serving ourselves, we are able to be transformed, as I trust James and John were transformed. Discovering a newfound honesty and transparency as we enter that prayerful and holy “space” where we say to God – “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth, among us . . . as it is in heaven.”