41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So 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. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Everything gets turned upside down in the kingdom of God that comes to us in the person of Jesus. In Mark’s gospel in particular, I find a strange comfort in the disciples’ cluelessness. Jesus tells them over and over again that his earthly fate will be suffering and death and that everyone who follows him must take up their cross as well. Each of the first two times Jesus is explicit about this, a discussion as to who is the greatest ensues among the disciples. They just don’t get it. James and John, the sons of thunder, rumble along hoping for the places of honor in the fullness of the kingdom. Were Jesus into sarcasm, he might ask, “Now just what part of ‘deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me’ do you not understand?” Apparently very little of it. I get that part all too well.
Jesus is re-defining greatness and power. In verse 43 Jesus says, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” Martin Luther King, Jr. drew on this counter-intuitive wisdom when he said, "Everyone has the power for greatness, not for fame, but greatness, because greatness is determined by service."
The greatest power of all is the power to be vulnerable, to care for others, to be so secure in oneself—or better said, in the God who claims us—that we don’t have to assert ourselves over against others for fear that they may get ahead of us. We need not see life as a competition where “I’m getting mine even if I have to step on you.” Jesus has told the disciples over and over again, and they just don’t see how it could be so. They don’t believe it. They don’t want to believe it. Surrender and change don’t come easily for them, or for us.
PRAYER: Lord God, we confess that we approach your world more as if it were a competition than an opportunity for service. Remind us that though we are in this “winners and losers” world, we are not of it. Re-form us daily in your image and in your service. We pray in Christ’s name. Amen.