It is one of the most famous episodes of the classic television show The Twilight Zone. A race of aliens has landed on earth. They are much more advanced than human beings. They present a gift to the residents of earth, a book written in the aliens’ language, the translated title of which is To Serve Man. The aliens set about doing good for humankind while a team of translators works on deciphering the book. Putting their advanced technology to work, the aliens soon eliminate all of humanity’s major problems, eradicating famine and war. Eventually, earth residents begin volunteering for excursions to the aliens’ home planet. One of the translators is about the enter the ship for his journey to the alien planet when a co-worker, who has now translated the book, runs up to the ship, screaming at him, “Don’t get on the ship. The book, To Serve Man, it’s a cookbook!”1
The earthlings thought that “to serve man” meant “to aid man, to do something helpful for man.” Of course the aliens were serving humankind in that way, but they had an ulterior motive — they wanted to save them so they could use them. The title of the book really meant “to serve man” as in “to serve people up as food.” The good actions of the aliens were revealed to be not so good when their motive was discovered. The purpose of their good actions was ultimately to use those human beings for their own benefit. Their actions were manipulative.
Now let’s make the considerable leap from The Twilight Zone to the New Testament. James and John, two-thirds of Jesus’ inner circle, launched a pre-emptive strike, hoping to secure places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom when he established it. They asked Jesus to grant that they could sit at his right and left hand in his kingdom. Jesus told them that they did not know what they were asking. When he asked them if they were able to drink the cup that he drank or to be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized, their quick “Yes” revealed just how little they did know about what they were asking. Jesus told James and John that they would drink his cup and be baptized with his baptism but that who got the positions of honor in the coming kingdom was not up to him.
The other disciples were not happy about the request of the sons of Zebedee. While we cannot read their minds, it is a logical conclusion that they did not think that James and John deserved such positions of honor and that, after all, they might deserve them just as much. So Jesus called his disciples together and told them that they were not to be like tyrannical worldly rulers. Instead, he said, “It is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (Mark 10:43-44).