This lesson we just heard from Mark is interesting in that it differs from how Matthew related it. Maybe it tells us something about the two evangelists. In Matthew’s version of the story, it was the mother of James and John, who asks Jesus to give her sons positions of importance in the coming Kingdom. Matthew must have thought that it was unbecoming for an apostle to make such a bold request. Mark, however, appears to be more honest. He wants us to understand that the disciples were very ordinary people.
Mark also gives us some insight into the character of James and John. They may have been lowly fishermen but they certainly were not shy about taking this opportunity to look out for their future. Like the other disciples, they believed in Jesus. They were confident of his leadership – they just wanted be sure they were included. They wanted to ride on his coat tails. We all have seen that … people who are impressed with titles – who want to be buddy-buddy with the boss just because she has the title and they think she has the power. Jesus did have the power but He wanted to impress upon the two brothers the price they’d have to pay for the privilege they wanted … the service they’d have be prepared to render.
Jesus’ response to James and John reveals what He means when he speaks of greatness. His definition is inevitably linked to service. That which makes a person great is not their ability to rule over others. Rather, it is the ability to invest one’s self for the welfare of others. In a world where most people want to put as little as is possible into life and to get out as much as possible, our Lord speaks of a better way.
Jesus calls us to that “better way” today. Only when we are willing to put more into life than we take out – to put service to others in a place of honor-only then, Jesus tells us, are we worthy to be called his followers.
The author Sue Monk Kidd says in her memoirs: we humans need stories almost as much as we need the air to breath. Jesus often began: Sit down, let me tell you a story. So, listen now to a new story with the same meaning as the gospel we just heard.
Once upon a time (that tells you it’s going to be a pretend story or a fable)… Well, once upon a time, in a far-off country, a king had twin sons. One was strong and handsome. The other was intelligent and wise. As the ruler aged, everyone speculated about which son would be the king’s successor – the strong son or the wise son.
In this land, the sign of kingship was a royal ring. Just before the king died, he had a copy of the royal ring made and presented one ring to each of his twin sons. The chief advisors to the king asked him, “How shall we know which son wears the authentic royal ring?”
“You shall know,” answered the king, “because the chosen one will reveal his right to rule by his self-giving service to our people.”
[Richard Carl Hoefler, Insights, October 1988]
Sitting down, Jesus called the twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”