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.”
Two brothers who were disciples of Jesus, James and John, have just asked a favor of Jesus. They wanted to have the two most prominent seats of power when Jesus came into his glory. However, are not getting Jesus’ message. Jesus has just told a rich young ruler that he had to get rid of all of his worldly wealth to come and follow him. He has explained three times to them that he must go to Jerusalem to die and rise again on the third day, and yet it seems that none of this has sunk in. They are thinking about his glory, not realizing that it is through his dying on the cross that the glory comes. They are ready for the glory part, not the suffering and dying part. Suffering, dying, or servanthood does not seem to resonate with their understanding of what is to come. What they seek is a particular station of importance, which is glory as the world understands it.
I suppose there has always been and always will be a desire for Christianity without the cross, and if we must have a cross by all means let’s make it only an empty cross. Let’s make sure we stress resurrection more than dying. Yet Jesus is trying to teach us that there cannot be a resurrection unless we die. This docetic kind of Christianity does not recognize the human suffering that Jesus experienced for the sake of the world, but glorifies success and miracles along with a quick fix to all of life’s problems.
Our culture thrives on being successful, and claiming an easy fix to all problems, and unfortunately it gets adopted into our understanding of Christianity, yet Jesus’ answer here is that to follow him means dying to one’s self. It means putting the needs of others above your own needs. It means servanthood at all costs.
Growing up on a farm in north Texas, I remember a man, named Johnson, who came to our farm every spring and summer. He stayed through the harvesting of wheat and oats, and on into the fall during the picking of cotton. He had no means of transportation, but walked wherever he went. He came up to our back door each spring and knocked. When we came to the door he announced, “Hello. Is Mr. Bill here? I have come to work for Mr. Bill again.” He became my Dad’s right hand man during the harvest seaons. All he wanted was a place to stay and food. Dad couldn’t afford to pay him what he was really worth, because we were tenant farming on the halves with the land-owner. Yet, this man who walked up to our door each year about time for the grain harvest to begin only wanted the basics and no more, for his labors. He had a servant’s heart. We supplied him with meals, and we had a small shack in our back yard where he stayed throughout the harvest season. Before he left our place in the fall my Dad took him into town to buy him some clothes and new shoes, and then he would bid us goodbye and go on the road, where he might find more harvesting. I will never forget his deep gratitude to my Dad for giving him a job, and his giving attitude of service.
Today as I think about our community, some of the most gracious people are those who have little in terms of worldly goods, but give willingly to others. When Jesus calls us he calls us to give of ourselves by thinking of the needs of others before we think about satisfying our own wants and desires.
Where in your neighborhood or city do you see the giving to those in need produce blessings of love and compassion to the giver?
How are you being called to give beyond what you had first imagined you could?
How are our church communities giving to the needs of others before providing for our own comforts?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.