Excerpt from Pauses for Lent
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.”

—Mark 10:35-45 NRSV

When Jesus teaches his disciples about what it means to follow him, he redefines the meaning of true greatness. We see this in our reading for today. When James and John ask him if they both can sit alongside him when he comes into glory, he turns their ideas about human greatness upside down. He tells them that they do not know what they are requesting. Jesus explains that those who are considered great by the world’s standards hold their power over others. For his followers, however, things are to be totally different. Those who are truly great in the kingdom of God serve others. 

The disciples have a difficult time grasping Jesus’ view of greatness; so do we. Our society bombards us with completely opposite messages. Those considered great are people with power, people continually in the public spotlight, and people served by others. But the way of Jesus, as we have seen, is radically different. Jesus encourages us to serve others without taking credit and to choose last place over the front of the line. It sounds crazy, and so we mutter under our breath, “Why on earth should we even consider doing this?” 

The reason is clear. We travel this path because it is Jesus’ way into the kingdom. If we want to experience the life that God makes possible, we must take this path of servanthood. We have to learn how to give up the right to be in charge, to call the shots, to give the orders. Rather, we seek to discover how to become available to others, to bless those near us, to be sensitive to the needs in our midst. In the process, we come to experience the gift of another kind of life, a life of joyful freedom and gradual transformation, a life in the kingdom of God. 

Each of us needs to explore what Jesus’ instructions mean for us. Most certainly it will mean joining those who our society does not consider important—the destitute, the desperate, the elderly, the homebound, the sick, the victims—and learning how best to serve them.

Hudson, Trevor. Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days. Upper Room Books. Kindle Edition. Used with permission.

Originally published February 2015.