Will you do whatever we ask of you? This off-putting question came from two status-seeking apostles (brothers James and John). This pair had asked Jesus if they could occupy the choice spots on either side of Jesus’ heavenly throne (Mark 10:35-45).
Jesus first responded by declaring to the bold brothers that they didn’t really know what they were asking. Jesus drove home the point by asking them if they could experience the baptism (e.g., the calling/experiences/death) that Jesus must endure. With a bold “Yes!” from James and John Jesus affirmed that they would experience his kind of “baptism” but that it wasn’t within Jesus’ reach to rearrange heavenly seating. Jesus then began to teach about authority and how James and John and other followers must serve rather than sit idly in a privileged position.
Not surprisingly, the other apostles were upset with James and John for their presumed superiority and for causing such a stir. The issue of who has the highest status is a recurrent theme in human history and apparently Jesus’ closest followers had the same struggle. Jesus deflated the brothers’ egos by declaring that those who want first-class status and privileges don’t understand how the kingdom of heaven works. In God’s way, the usual human authority structure is turned upside-down. In the ministry of love, those who achieve status are the ones who do the serving, the sacrificing, even the dying for others (just as Jesus did).
A great lesson is here: Love involves sacrifice. Jesus tried to make this clear to his ancient followers and the message also applies to us. Let’s consider how love calls us to give of ourselves. Love in this sense is not demanding, not requiring special privileges and showy status. No, the way of spiritual life is such that we demonstrate our faith by what we do for others rather than what they can do for us. Our Christian service is therefore an act of love wherein we give without expecting special privileges. Of course, we obtain God’s favor through our faithful attitudes and actions. Unlike the worldly rewards, God provides us the mercy and grace that surpass the gold and glamor of earthly acclaim.
A helpful take-away from today’s passage is that there’s no practical value in figuring who is or is not on either side of a heavenly throne. The human system involves enough fighting over status but this need not be the case for us. If we are transformed by God’s Spirit then we don’t need human affirmation. As God’s followers we focus on service, loving God and neighbor. We needn’t strive for an ego-driven consciousness. “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” (Mark 10:43-44).