We are two-thirds of the way through Mark’s gospel, and James and John have gotten the message…well, they’ve gotten part of the message, anyway. They have seen the miracles. They have travelled with Jesus and heard him preach the new covenant. And that’s where they get lost. They have seen Jesus in the glory of the Transfiguration. They have come to believe he truly is the Messiah. And they think they deserve a share of his glory. They want the best seats in the house of the Lord… and they’re not shy about asking for them.
Jesus listens. He sees how far they have come and how far they have yet to go. He knows it’s time to take them to the next level. And it’s not the level they were planning on. They are angling for positions of prestige and power. Jesus is committed to a life of selfless love and sacrificial service.
Patiently, he explains to them: You don’t understand what you are asking for. Jesus knows the suffering that awaits him. He asks if James and John are ready to share his fate… if they are prepared to drink of the cup that I drink of. In posing the question this way, Jesus is being very forthright with them. This was a common metaphor of the day, used to warn of great peril. But in their enthusiasm and ambition, James and John are blind to the danger. Jesus, knowing the martyrdom waiting for them all, cautions that they will share his fate. And ever in obedience to the will of the Father, he tells them that the honors they seek are not his to give.
Overhearing this talk of honors and rewards, the other apostles want to get in on the action. They start to grumble that James and John are getting too big for their britches. Then Jesus shuts down the whole brouhaha, telling them that they’ve got it all wrong. The disciples accept Jesus as the Messiah, but they still don’t have a clue about what that really means. Jesus wants to take them up to the next level, to have them fully understand what it means to follow him. He tells them that to be a Christian means to serve, not to lord it over people. It did then and it does now.
Like James and John most of us have gotten the message… well some of it anyway. We acknowledge Jesus as our Savior, and we hope to share in his kingdom. But it’s long past time for many of us to take being a Christian up to the next level. Like the apostles, Jesus has a double barrelled message for us. We too must drink from the cup. No one passes through this life unscathed. Disease, disappointment, heartbreak, physical, mental and emotional suffering…to one degree or another, they are our common lot. They can make us or break us, depending on how closely we cling to Jesus. The second part of the message is an explanation of exactly what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life of serving, not a life of being served.
While we may not be ready for this level of perfection, we can take the first step. Let’s start with a simple attitude adjustment. Listen more, talk less. Try understanding. Try forgiving. Try seeing things from the other person’s point of view. Try not to take offense. Stop trying to convince everyone that you’re the smartest guy in the room. Start bringing energy, encouragement and affirmation to everyone you encounter today. Start helping and do it humbly. Consciously make being an active loving Christian the focus of your day. Then wake up tomorrow and do it again.
Get it? Good… you’re on your way to understanding what it means to be a Christian. Welcome to the next level.
The Reverend David Sellery, Episcopal Priest, Author, and Coach. Fr. Sellery presently serves as Priest-in-Charge, St. John’s Salisbury, CT. Fr. Sellery has excelled at using new media to increase outreach beyond the Church doors via his website, blog posts, and podcasts.
Image: icon of James and John, public domain