Twenty Second Sunday After Pentecost
Year B, RCL
October 21, 2018
North Fork Ministries
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus 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."
I don’t know for sure if kids still do this. My guess is that it’s one of those traditions of childhood that are passed down from generation to generation of automobile-riding American children - a legacy of the American West, an historical stew combining the memories of stagecoaches and muleskinners with our natural inclination to seek status and security. I’m speaking of the time honored practice of children yelling, “shotgun”, in order to lay claim to the privileged position of riding alongside the driver of the family sedan.
While I don’t propose that James and John, as children, shouted, “shotgun” into the ears of their father Zebedee whenever they embarked on a family vacation, the request they made of Jesus, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory," springs from the same human desire to occupy a place of power and privilege.
James and John are desirous of status, place, a position of establishment.
Those who seek to occupy a place, a seat at a banquet, a spot near a throne, don’t usually come off very well in Jesus’ estimation. People who occupy place are usually held up in contrast to those who are “on the way”.
The foolish audacity of James and John is rather amazing. “Will you do for us whatever we ask?” they said to Jesus. In Matthew’s telling of this encounter, the mother of James and John made the request on their behalf. I guess Matthew couldn’t imagine that these two disciples would be so bold to make the request on their own and so their mother did it for them. But in Mark, they did the asking themselves.
They clearly hadn’t been listening carefully to Jesus. For the third time, as they walked along the dusty road to Jerusalem, Jesus had described to the disciples how he would be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, condemned to death, mocked, spat upon, flogged and killed. And after three days rise again. And still they asked that they join Jesus as if on a throne, in a place of honor at his right hand and at his left. Little did they know that those who would be stationed at the right and at the left of Jesus would be thieves, condemned to death and sentenced to hang upon a Roman cross. Clearly they did not know what they were asking. They did not realize that they would soon be required to sacrifice everything in order to follow Jesus.
Do you know what you are getting yourself into by coming to Holy Trinity or The Church of the Redeemer? You are asking to be challenged in ways you don’t expect. As we grow as a church, and open our doors widely, you may be asked to sit alongside, and extend a welcoming hand and a smile, toward people you might have earlier walked on the other side of the street to avoid. You may be asked to give of your time when you are already dead tired. You may be asked to give of your money when you already have plenty of ways to spend your hard-earned income.
But what the disciples learned, and some of us still have to learn, is that when we give of ourselves, a higher self emerges. Self- sacrifice doesn’t mean self-flagellation, self-hatred, holding one’s self in contempt. Giving up your self, might be the most lovely idea you can imagine. Particularly among those of us who have grown a little weary of the self we see in the mirror. If you look in the mirror in the morning and the face that stares back at you is not the person you want to be, maybe it is time to let go of the old self. The self that is caught up in a vain attempt to get more money, acquire more stuff, be the person other people think you should be.
The sacrifice that Jesus is asking his disciples to make, is really no sacrifice at all. It is a giving up of something that, while you may be attached to it, isn’t really who you want to be. It requires a giving up of the old self, in exchange for new life.
Most of us, if we are honest, have to admit that we may be part of the Zebedee family – sons and daughters of Zebedee. Looking to get ahead, to gain an honored position in whatever forum we mingle. And there are those who tell themselves that they are perfectly content, and from a position of entitlement are bold enough to ask the world at large, “Will you do for us whatever we want?”
My guess is that such people really haven’t looked inside themselves, haven’t really examined who they are. Henri Nouwenonce wrote, “Only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.”
The model for living that Jesus offers is one of self-sacrifice. Learning to serve others and in the process, giving up an old way of being.
Jesus replied to his disciples, “"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?" Marcus Borg has pointed out that both “drinking the cup” and “baptism” are images of death – Jesus’ death on the cross, to be sure, but also, Borg says, "a dying of the self as the center of its own concern" and "a dying to the world as the center of security and identity."
We are called, as the disciples were, to death, death as transformation. Letting go, dying to the way we once were, and waking up to new life in Christ.
Albert Schweitzer once said, “I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” Those who have learned how to serve, occupy, right now, the best seats in the kingdom.