In our text from Sunday, as we journey toward Good Friday and Easter Sunday, we see for that the third time in Mark's Gospel Jesus predicts his coming suffering and death.
On each of the previous occasions, the disciples have failed to take in what he has said. They have failed to understand. In fact it has been beyond their mental framework, the way their minds have been trained to think. On this the third occasion, the disciples yet again fail to comprehend.
No sooner has Jesus told them that he is going to be put to death, than James and John, the son's of Zebedee come to Jesus with a special request:
“Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in glory.”
They are wanting positions of honour and glory in the new Kingdom of Israel, which they equate with the Kingdom of God, that they believe Jesus is about to establish. They want to become big-shots, high officials in Jesus' Kingdom.
“You don't know what you are asking for” Jesus replies. They have not yet understood the way of God's Kingdom.
Very soon, the rest of the disciples get wind of what is happening and they become indignant with James and John. Why are they indignant with James and John? Not because James and John have been so slow to learn the lessons that Jesus is teaching them, they are indignant because James and John got in there first. They too wanted positions of glory and honour.
The disciples in this passage have their thoughts influenced by the ways of the world. Even though they hate Caesar and the Roman Empire, their thinking is the same as that of Caesar. They are in fact followers of the way of Caesar. The way of wanting status, power and authority over others.
Despite Jesus' consistent example and teaching, they have not yet learned the way of God's Kingdom.
Jesus in his patience doesn't tell them how stupid they are. He simply begins to teach them:
“You know that the rulers of the nations like to have authority over other people. They like to control other people, they like positions of power, status and authority. Not so with you.
Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the son of man did not come to be served but to serve.”
The way of Jesus is they way of giving up bossing other people around, and following instead the way of servant-hood. Using whatever power and authority we have, not just for the benefit of ourselves, but for the benefit of others and the benefit of society.
Dale Carnegie, the writer of the book “How to make friends and influence people” writes that the desire for importance is one of the key motivating factors of human beings. We all want to feel important. Most of our actions are motivated by the desire to feel important. Some find their sense of importance through negative and destructive means. When the Florida school shooter Nikolas Cruz went on his school rampage, in a warped and distorted way he was seeking to express his sense of importance, his desire to be seen, his need to be taken seriously.
When James and John ask for special positions on Jesus right and his left in glory, what they are seeking is a way to feel important.
Jesus invites us to find our importance in life, not based on seeking positions of power and status, not by trying to exert authority and control over others, but rather to find our importance in life by bringing benefit to others. Not how many people can I have beneath me who can carry out my orders, but rather, how many people can I be a blessing to? How many people can I benefit with this short life that I have been given here on earth?