James 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." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But 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?" They 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; but 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."
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Helen Keller said "Happiness cannot come from without. It must come from within. It is not what we see and touch or that which others do for us which makes us happy; it is that which we think and feel and do, first for the other fellow and then for ourselves.”
This is quite a hard lesson to learn. Many people think that things will make them happy, that a relationship will make them happy, that status will make them happy, that degrees will make them happy, that power will make them happy. This is what we are seeing with James and John in the Gospel of Mark 10: 35-45. Wow! They have some nerves! Who do they think they are?
It seems like the disciples did not learned the lesson when just in the chapter before they were arguing with one another about who was the greatest, and Jesus gave them the lesson that “Whoever wants to be first, must be last of all and servant of all.” But here they’re again…
Why are they so obsessed with being in power? The question they asked is in the context of knowing that someday Jesus would come as a judge. Jewish tradition is that in a judgement there are three judges. James and John want to be up there. High up, in power. They want to have their place secured. And so they cornered Jesus, to advocate for that job in the future to come. But this request did not come out of a desire to serve. It was not motivated by a sense of vocation, or responsibility, or call to be next to Jesus. It was motivated only to be next to Jesus in a moment of glory, power and standing.
When they ask, Jesus tells them: "You do not know what you are asking. (What they were asking for, had some serious responsibility and requirements. They surely, had no clue what they were asking for). Are you able to drink the cup that I drink “Are you able to go through the passion, the suffering, the crucifixion?” or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” “Are you able to proudly be identified with me… to be identified as a follower of Christ, and his movement of justice and peace and Good news of Hope for the oppressed and poor?” Well, we all know that they didn’t even last in the garden of Gethsemane for prayer, yet eventually, years later, these two died as martyrs of the Christian faith. They took the cup of Christ, but later.
Power is the imposition of a few over many or over one with some resources over another lacking those resources. We see power imposed over so many marginalized by society because they don’t make the cut for so many social constructions. Over time we have seen, and we still see that race, gender, place of origin, class, status, gender orientation, religious affiliation, and money, among others, are used to have power over others.
Politicians use there power to control the people as much as they can. (We are lucky, if we have good ones.) Everyone exercises to position themselves in a place where at least they can have a little bit of power. No one wants to be at the bottom of the pyramid. Yet the Lord is telling us the opposite. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This passage is an invitation to re-define power and to explore it from Jesus’ perspective.
But let’s be very careful. All of us, starting with myself, have a profound lesson to learn from this passage. It could be very easy for us to say, “who do they think they are?” but… don’t we do that too? Don’t we enjoy attention and status? Don’t we like to know over not knowing? Don’t we want to have control over information? Don’t we want to think that happiness comes from outside, instead of from within? As long as human beings have been on the face of the earth, hunger for power have existed. Wasn’t that how Eve fell with the apple story? She was offered power and she took it!
Let us give up power up to God, and exercise faith. I know it’s not easy. But it’s possible. Living knowing that God will take care of us is what’s expected of us! God will never leave us. Never!
And "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Mahatma Gandhi.