Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:
“Wait, please! Hold on, everybody! Will the wedding party and honored guests please be seated in back. Tonight, the head table, and the first ones to eat, will be the janitors who cleaned up, the cooks who prepared everything, then the servers–waiters, waitresses and bartenders, then the chauffeurs and those who decorated, blew up balloons or whatever. After they have all eaten, the family members who planned and worked hard for all of this will eat. Finally, after that, the wedding party and guests of honor can have their turn.”
“Who dreamed up these seating arrangements?” “Jesus.” “Jesus, who?” “Jesus of Nazareth.” “Oh, that Jesus.”
In order for us to get the full impact of the Gospel Lesson for this Sunday, we need to read the two verses immediately before it: “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus said, “and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
The very next verse has James and John coming up to Him with this bizarre and pretentious request: “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.” Jesus’ patience and grace always fascinate and amaze me. He didn’t give specific assent to their carte blanche request, but He didn’t reprimand them for it, either. He asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said, “Let one of us sit at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory.” We read those words and our first impulse is to say, “What gall!”
Jesus’ first impulse was more patience and grace. He told them that they didn’t know what they were asking (a thief would soon be at His right, and another at His left), and He asked them, “Can you drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Even though they did not know the extent of the agony which would lead Jesus to pray that the cup of suffering pass without His having to empty it, they replied that they were ready to drink it. They seemed ready to do whatever it took to get what they wanted. Jesus was aware that one day they, too, would suffer agony and death because of their faith. But it would have nothing to do with their request. Ultimately, the decision about the seating arrangements in glory would be made by His Father.
When the other disciples heard what the Brothers-Bar-Zebedee had done, they got upset. It seems that Mark, having revealed the hardheaded and hardheartedness of James and John, was not about to let the other ten come off clean. He wrote about their equally ridiculous display. We know from Jesus’ response to it that the bickering which broke out had to do with the ten attacking the two for claiming “dibs” on the best seats in the house–not for the inappropriateness of their question!
Jesus called all twelve together and told them to stop acting like Gentiles: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Are we interested in lording it over others, or in being Lordlike to others? Being egocentric when we should be Christocentric is not a new problem. This text reveals that it dates back to the church’s embryonic stage. But it is a problem that still needs our attention. There is no reason for the church to keep going if it isn’t going where Jesus is sending it!
Some years ago I read an article that said that a self-serving people in a self-serving church are practitioners of “churchianity,” as opposed to Christianity. Jesus calls us to live to serve others, just as He lived and died to serve us. When we are tempted to be upset with James and John, we need to remember that getting honorable recognition for stalwart, sterling behavior was (and often still is) the expected way for things to proceed in the Messiah’s Kingdom. It isn’t the Messiah’s way.
Some theologians think that James and John were concerned with seating arrangements in heavenly places rather than an earthly kingdom. Either way, their concern is less outrageous or absurd than it is cold and hardhearted. Jesus is talking about suffering, humiliation, torture and dying; all they can think about is getting box seats!
The highest position the world accorded Jesus was on a hilltop outside Jerusalem–where He was raised up above everyone else–on a cross. His right- and left-hand men were a couple of common thieves, being executed for their crimes. While it appeared that this unenviable position was thrust on Him by ordinary men, it was His own choosing. He was no ordinary man. He “did not come to be served, but to serve.” He willingly chose not to save Himself. He chose instead to save others, “and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Just as Isaiah had said it, “the Servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with transgressors . . . He bore the sin of many.”
On more than one occasion I have read something like, “Jesus lived and died and rose again for us, so that we might thank Him and praise Him and serve Him.” Whenever I read that, I just want to scream! How in the world can people write such drivel? We are so naive and ignorant sometimes; we actually think that God is like us. Jesus lived and loved and served because He is Jesus–it is His way. For Him it is the only way. He did it because we needed it, and we couldn’t do it for ourselves. To say He did it so that we would thank Him is to make Him just like us–not a server of others, but a self-server. You will never find Jesus quitting because someone neglected to thank Him.
Now about where Jesus is sending us. It is always to the rear of the line. People who are in the Kingdom of God are called to spend their time outside of it, serving those who are still Christ-less. We are to keep going out so that we can bring them in. Who in the world made these seating arrangements anyway?