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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Friday, March 23, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 10:32–45   

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”

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.” (NRSV)

Greatness. Fame. Success. Whose mind hasn’t been tempted by these? Even so, in Mark 10, as Jesus and his disciples travel toward Jerusalem, it is astonishing to see the two brothers, James and John, asking Jesus to confer greatness on them. The brothers sought an eternal place alongside their master, brazenly maneuvering to set themselves above their fellow disciples.

Jesus does not quite reproach them for their request. He instead calls the disciples together to teach a lesson for the ages, a parable of paradox. Yes, there are people who lord it over others. Yes, the powerful in the world might exploit the weak. But those who follow Jesus cannot and will not wield power at the expense of others. No, to truly follow Jesus, one must serve others. In some ways the brothers’ request foretells the contemporary risks of a success gospel gone awry: success that forgets the gospel; ambition that seeks advancement for self alone.

So we must ask ourselves, again and again: where does our ambition lead us? Do we navigate our course in life by following God’s will, or is his word silenced by our interior drive for recognition, security, a life of ease? Do we seek inclusiveness, or do we succumb to zero-sum thinking, which insists that if someone wins, others must lose? Do we pursue success knowing that our accomplishments are realized through the talents and resources God has given us, or do we attribute success to our individual grit and determination?

James and John learned well from Jesus, advancing his ministry as witnesses to his Resurrection. They served. They sacrificed. James was martyred by Herod, becoming the first of the apostles to die. John, despite exile and persecution, preached the gospel message to the end of his life. May their example speak to us in our daily lives.

Thine is the glory, heavenly Father. As we trace Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, cause us to contemplate your Son’s message of service. Shape our individual paths of discipleship through his challenge to be “servant to all.” Amen.

Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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