The other night I had the joy of sitting with a dozen or so high school and college age students. The group has been working through a 10-week long small group book that facilitates discussions on the basics of the Christian life. As we sat in a circle we talked through the chapter and discussed the importance of serving. One verse, a familiar verse, was italicized and centred on the middle of one of the pages. A verse that I'm sure was meant to stop us in our tracks:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10.45
As the group chatted about this and the conversation moved along I decided to flip open my bible and read the entire passage. Sometimes I forget the importance of putting in the little bit of extra effort to grasp the entire circumstance within which the verse was originally said. I'm glad I did go and look, because what I found astounded me.
In Mark 10.35-45 we are able to observe what was likely a common interaction between Jesus and his disciples. These guys spent a great deal of time together and so I imagine that situations like this happened frequently. Basically, James and John go up to Jesus and say, "Jesus, we want you to give us whatever we ask." Rather bold don't you think? Before we quickly judge these two let's remember that sometimes this is our posture as well. It's possible to fall into the trap of believing that Jesus is some sort of magic genie who functions as if all of our wishes are his command. It doesn't work this way. Jesus' response is gracious, as per usual: "What do you want me to do for you?" Likely delighted by his response, they say, "We want to sit beside you in glory, one of us on your right and one of us on your left." Bold. When all is said and done they want to have their own little thrones placed on either side of Jesus, so they can sit beside him, the one who would be seated at the highest place of honour. They want the want recognition. They want honour. They want to be known. The only different between these two men and myself is that I don't think I've ever asked Jesus for this explicitly even though I may have thought similar thoughts. How about you?
Jesus tells the men that they don't know what they're asking for. He implies that they don't understand the sheer magnitude of their request. He asks if they are "able to drink the cup" that he drinks and be "baptized with the baptism" which he is baptized (Mark 10.38). He's asking if they are able to do the things which Jesus was set out to do, to endure what he would endure, suffer what he would suffer, how far they are willing to go in giving their lives to accomplish what Jesus had called them to do. "We are able (Mark 10.39)" is their response which reveals to us at least two observations: First, their response displays their honest desire to be faithful and fulfill the calling on their lives. Second, we see that they are still growing in their understanding and knowledge of the Kingdom of God and what Jesus the Messiah had come to accomplish.
And 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 is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." Mark 10.39-40
Though in that moment the disciples may not have understood the fulness of what it would mean to get what they asked for, Jesus tells them that they will indeed experience what he experiences. They say we are able and Jesus says you definitely will. We also must note that the Father is responsible for deciding who will sit where. This is important in helping us understand the humanity of Jesus. Not only would the disciples need to submit to the Father and trust his timing and assignment, Jesus was also submitted to his Father in heaven and relied on him for everything. Mark 10.41 describes the reaction of all the disciples to this news. The other 10 men get angry at James and John for asking such a question. They were also likely frustrated with jealousy, thinking that James and John might get something they all thought they deserved. We know from Mark 9.33-37 that the disciples often bantered about who was the greatest. Remember, the disciples might have been foolish enough to argue about who was the greatest while in the presence of Jesus, but sometimes we do this in our own minds and hearts. This leads to my final thought from Mark 10.42-45.
In these four verses Jesus comments on the cultural norms of the day, expresses how his followers are to live differently, and flips everything the disciples knew to be true upside down. Jesus talks about how it was completely normal for people of that day to use whatever amount of authority they had over an other in an oppressive way. Tax collectors were responsible for collecting percentages of money on behalf of the government and would allow their greed to fuel the misuse of their authority. Masters would not treat their servants with dignity and respect and would abuse their authority in oppressing those under them. Jesus responds to this straight up in Mark 10.43-44:
But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.
Do you see what just happened? In two sentences Jesus disables the foolishness of the world's thinking and redefines the way the disciples - the way we - are to live our lives. Just like that Jesus dismantles our own selfish thoughts which are more focused on us getting ahead than making the world a better place. With what seems like great ease Jesus pushes back on the norm of the day - the norm of our day - and provides a better way to live.
Those who follow Jesus are destined to make an impact on people wherever they go. In a sense, all who follow Jesus are leaders. Our leadership is to be marked by servanthood. Our minds are to be filled with thoughts of how we can put others before ourselves and not be concerned with how we can get ahead (Philippians 2.3-4). We are to surprise those we interact with by serving them and not assuming that they should be serving us. After all, this is exactly what Jesus did throughout the entirety of his ministry on earth. This is the fresher and better way of living that Jesus introduced to humanity who had otherwise gotten it all backwards. Jesus is the King who teaches how to serve others by perfectly and sacrificially serving us (Mark 10.45).
Jesus teaches us what it means to serve.