Isaiah 42:1-9, Matthew 20:20-28
February 1, 2015
Last week, we talked about playing “Follow the Leader.” I hope that brought back some nice memories for you! It did for me! We also mentioned some of the other games we used to play as children. I was surprised how many of you had played “Baby in the air!” I loved that game!
Well, I hope you’ve been thinking about “Follow the Leader” this week. I hope it’s helped you think about the idea that we are committed to following Jesus, and how that means more than just believing in him. Our commitment to him means going where he goes, and doing what he does.
Well, going along with that is another game that perhaps you played as a kid. It was called “Power, power, who’s got the power?” Did you ever play that one? I don’t remember all of the details of that game, but it was about who won by getting the “power” over all the others. (Maybe some of you will remind me more about that one!)
Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m all for a certain amount of “healthy competition” for kids. I know there are those who have tried to eliminate that. They’ve tried to do away with any kind of competition in kids’ games. But I think a certain amount of that is a good thing. It teaches children grace in winning and in losing. Both of which are important. But, I think we do need to consider how much that competition dominates our lives.
Is everything in this life one big competition? In all things, do we need to build ourselves up, and thereby put others down? There are some who see life that way. In fact, much of our society is based on that. You’ve got to win! You’ve got to be first! You’ve got to have the power! It’s ingrained in our world. “Power, power, who’s got the power?”
That’s why some people have a hard time with Jesus. Because part of following Jesus, is knowing what his ministry is about. And what’s important to him is different than what’s important to the world. His disciples had a hard time with that. They played this game “Power, power, who’s got the power?” From time to time we would find them arguing about who was the greatest among them. That’s one of those things we read in our “Bible voice.” And because of that, we don’t see how bizarre it actually was. But these guys were human. They were flawed, And they played that “game.” “Power, power, who’s got the power?”
Even their mom’s were playing that game! In our story for today, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and said, (In a Jewish mother accent) “Hey Jesus, when you become rich and famous, can my boys sit next to you?” In other words, what was she asking? “Can they be rich and famous with you?” “Can they share power with you?” Do you see? Those things were important to people even then!
Well, Jesus appears a bit exasperated here. And he asks what seems a rhetorical question. “Are they able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” Meaning, “Are they able to suffer what I have to suffer?” And I think that’s more a statement of challenge, rather than it is of him asking for their determination or their qualifications. Because they answer! And they say “Yes! We are able!” (Apparently they are part of this conversation!) “Really?” Jesus said, knowing what was ahead of them! Then he clarifies it for them. “Actually, you are going to suffer the same things. But! That has nothing to do with sitting beside me!”
At this point (or at least shortly afterwards) the other disciples enter the conversation. And they don’t get it either! They’re indignant at James and John! They were upset at their apparent arrogance? They were thinking they too wanted that place of honor – that power – and these “sons of thunder” were trying to grab it before them!
I hope we see all of that. Because Jesus clears all of this up in a hurry by making the statement we read today. He tells them – maybe in an exasperated way, “This isn’t about power!” “This is about servanthood!” “And if you’re going to follow me – and there’s that theme again! – If you’re going to follow me, you need to know what my kingdom is about!” And it’s about this! “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant!” “And whoever would be first among you must be slave of all!”
That’s amazing, if you think about it! And it’s even more than just “The first shall be last and the last first!” And all of that flies in the face of the philosophy of our world, doesn’t it? People in our world – and apparently theirs as well – seek power, prestige, and wealth. Jesus said it this way. “You know that the rulers of this world like to ‘lord it over’ others. And those who are great, exercise great authority.” “But it shall not be so among you!”
That’s our theme for today. If, as we said at the first of the year, we are “recommitting ourselves” to Jesus and his ministry, we are then committed to follow him, which is more than just “believing in” him. And if we are committed to following him, we are committed to service in his kingdom. Because that’s what his kingdom is about!
I hope we’ll take his words to heart today. I hope we are able to see the word “you” in his statement as meaning “us,” too. “It shall not be so among you!” I hope “it shall not be so among us!” Make no mistake! His is a servant ministry! Ours is a servant ministry! Our leaders are chosen as servants! Think about it! We even use that language. We say that our leaders “serve” certain terms. And! They lead by example! And the example is service! Just like Jesus!!
Now, the Bible doesn’t say what these guys did after Jesus said these words. But sometimes I wonder about that! Did they get it? Did they wonder about this Jesus? Did they think he was that “out of it?” Did they think he was “clueless?” Sometimes, if people are really enamored with their leaders, they will excuse strange behavior or odd statements. History shows us that. Was this one of those times? And what did James and John’s mother think at that moment?
And, I wonder what we think? Can we get beyond the mindset of this world and think in terms of Jesus’ kingdom? Can we think of ourselves as servants? The word “Humility” used to be a positive word. It was even considered to be a “virtue.” Now we see it as something “few people have.” And we admire them! But humility is something we are all called to have. “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant.”
That’s the mindset we are called to have! We are called to follow. We are called to serve!
Eternal God, help us to have the mind of Jesus, our leader. Help us to follow him. Help us to take seriously his call to serve. Help us to see the joy in loving and serving others. For this we pray in his name, Amen.