The Apostles James and John, the sons of Zebedee are also known as ‘Boanerges’, which means ‘The Sons of Thunder’. This name fits them to some extent as there is something quite loud and brash about the two brothers. The Gospel reading this morning is a good example of this. It begins by the brothers coming up to Jesus and asking Him,
“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” (Mk 10 35)
That is a very bold request to make of anyone, let alone Jesus. But Our Lord does not seem shocked, surprised, or upset. Instead He replies quite calmly,
“What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (Mk 10:36-37)
This is quite something to ask for. It is really shocking. But there are some surprising assumptions underlying the disciples’ request. First, there is the assumption that Jesus will be glorified. Secondly that, as one possessing glory, Jesus really is the Messiah and the Son of God. Thirdly, James and John are asking for the seats of honour, to be Jesus’ right and left hand men, to be the leaders of the disciples. Jesus does not overreact, or get angry with them. Instead, He simply states,
“You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10:38)
Jesus is absolutely correct. The sons of Zebedee have no idea what they are asking for. Jesus then asks them if they are able to drink the cup He will drink, or to share His baptism. Presumably James and John have no idea of what Jesus means by this, but in their enthusiasm, they readily agree. In the verses which come before today’s reading, Jesus has been teaching the Twelve for the third time that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer and die. At this point in the Gospel narrative, Jesus is making His final journey from Galilee up to Jerusalem, prior to His Passion and Death. Rather than being a military ruler bringing liberation to Israel, the Messiah will, in fact, be a Suffering Servant, as spoken of by the prophet Isaiah.
And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mk 10:39-40)
Jesus does not tell James and John off, but He does prophesy that they will likewise face a violent end. It is not for Jesus to decide who will sit next to Him in Heaven. The conversation has, however, clearly upset the other disciples, who are not happy with James and John’s attempt to seek preeminence. Again, rather than telling them off, Jesus uses the opportunity to teach the disciples.
And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”(Mk 10:41-42)
We are used to seeing depictions of Roman Emperors in films on TV. They wear purple clothes, the most expensive dye in the Ancient World, and they are treated as though they have an almost divine status. They are shown as absolute rulers, whose words and whims have to obeyed. In contrast to this, Jesus offers the Twelve a different paradigm:
“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”(Mk 10:43-45)
Those who are to lead the Church are called to a life of service, of God and of others. The disciples are called to serve others, and not to seek power or prestige for themselves. The life of Jesus Christ, who gives his life ‘as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45) is our example. Christ willingly lays down His life to liberate people for God, to free them from death and sin, and to offer us eternal life in Heaven with God. This is why we celebrate Jesus’ Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The Cross and the Empty Tomb are the heart of our faith because they demonstrate God’s love for us. God loves each of us enough to die for us, and rises on the third day to show us that our eternal destiny is to enjoy God’s love forever in Heaven. The Christian Church proclaims this Gospel truth, and encourages all people to share in the gift God offers to us.
The first reading this morning is the second half of the fourth, and final, Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah, which we hear in full on Good Friday. The Church, from the time of the Apostles, has understood these verses as referring to Jesus. They speak of His passion, His Suffering and Death, for us. Christ fulfils the Scriptures and they find their true meaning in Him. In worldly terms, Jesus looks like a failure: He is deserted, denied, and dies the death of a common criminal. But we are not to judge by the standards of this world: ‘it shall not be so among you’ (Mk 10:43).
As Christians, we are being faithful to Christ. We are holding fast to our beliefs, because they are true, because they come from Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Through our faith we can ‘have confidence to draw near to the throne of grace and receive help in time of need’ (Heb 4:16). Our relationship with God is a mystery, not something to be explained, but something both to be experienced and lived out. It is a mystery which we will enter into this morning when Christ, as priest and victim, offers Himself for us. We receive Him, either spiritually or under the outward form of bread, and are transformed by Him, and enjoy the loving presence of God here and now and forever in Heaven.
In living out God’s truth in our lives we live a service which is perfect freedom. In conforming ourselves to Christ we find meaning and identity. So let us lay down our lives that we may live fully and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. To whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.