They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the 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.” Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “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.”
—Mark 10:32-45 (TNIV)
What a fascinating story that unfolds here. Mark tells us that Jesus’ followers are astonished and afraid as he heads toward Jerusalem and certain death. He even tells the twelve for the third time that this is what is going to happen. So what is James’ and John’s reaction? They wanna know if they can be Big Shots along with Jesus in his coming kingdom! Never mind, Jesus, that you are going to Jerusalem to die for us so that we might have a chance to live with God forever. Never mind the terrible cost you are about to pay. Never mind that we are totally not worthy of you doing any of this. No, we’re more interested in what you can do to satisfy our immediate petty desires. We wanna be Big Shots like you.
It is easy for us to criticize James and John as armchair quarterbacks because they really did act badly here. But how often are we guilty of doing the same? How often to we gloss over what God has done for us in the cross of Jesus Christ and focus instead on our own myopic and petty desires?
But as Jesus reminds us here, that is not how it is to be if we choose to follow him. We must learn to put our own needs aside and seek to follow him, in part, by serving others and proclaiming the Good News to them as opportunities arise. This is what denying self really means. It means giving up our place at the center of the universe and giving it to Jesus. It means realizing that we really aren’t worthy to be loved by him but that he loves us nevertheless because of his great compassion and mercy for us.
To understand this means you are getting nearer to the meaning of observing a holy Lent. How is that going for you?