The Request of James and John
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”
38 “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?”
39 “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.”
41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.42 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. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.45 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.”
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. last week, we are reflecting on the qualities that made him a great leader, not only in the Civil Rights movement, but also in the faith.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a sermon in February of 1968. He would be assassinated a few months later. In this message, inspired by Mark 10, Dr. King said,
“If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great, wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness. And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant."
In these words, Dr. King captured the essence of service and humility, and he seemed to emulate this in his own life. King was a disciple before he was a leader. He seemed to hang on to his discipleship role even as his fame grew. It is his grounding in scripture and prayer, and his humility, that helped maintain influence with so many. People are eager to follow leaders who can serve alongside them, who can demonstrate humility.
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” I am certain the disciples, and everyone else, thought this was nonsense. And in some circles today, it is still seen as crazy talk. But we are called to live by a different standard than everyone else. It’s not easy to be humble, to serve others, to put yourself last. If you are in a role of leadership, have wealth or a position of status, it is even harder. The higher we rise on the social, economic, or political ladder, the harder it is to step back down.
Look at where you are on the ladder. If you’re looking for greatness, it’s found down on the ground, where your hands get dirty and your status doesn’t matter.
Dear Lord, help me grow deep in agape love. Show me the places in my community where I can make a change. Guide me to recognize the limit of my powers and give me courage, strength and grace to act as needed. Help me use my freedom for good. Draw me into new spaces and guide me to share my space with others. Create in me a heart full of grace and a soul full of love for your people. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ® NIV ®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2014 by Biblica, Inc.®. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.