I. Seats for Self-Serving Sons
This is Mark’s third passion prediction followed by a blatant request for fame and honor in the mouths of James and John. This is the only time in the Gospel of Mark these two brothers are named apart from the other 12. Their request for self-serving glory and fame match their names: Sons of Thunder (Mark 3:17).

The brothers wanted Jesus to sign a blank check to be cashed in the new kingdom for seats of honor on either side of Jesus. They believed their journey to Jerusalem was a road leading to fame and honor, and they wanted to elbow their way to the front before the other disciples made their moves.

When Jesus asked them what they wanted Him to do, they wanted Jesus to reserve two seats on either side of Him and let them help Him rule the new kingdom. The Sons of Thunder desired seats of prominence, power and prestige. They were ambitious and knew how to look out for themselves. They completely misunderstood what Jesus said about the kingdom of God and the role of suffering.

II. The Seat of a Serving Son
Jesus responded to this self-serving request in a caring and compassionate manner. He told them they did not know what they were asking and proceeded to clarify their request. He answered the brothers’ request with a question: “Are you able to drink the cup I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

Jesus reminded James and John of the Old Testament images of cup and baptism. The cup was a frequent metaphor for suffering and torment (Isaiah 51:17-22); baptism was used to speak of someone who was helpless and drowning (Psalms 42:7, Isaiah 43:2). James and John heard only glory, fame, honor and self-service in the call of Jesus while Jesus insisted on suffering, service and servanthood. This is reflected in their answer to Jesus’ question: “We are able.”

III. Seats for Jealous Disciples
When the other disciples heard this conversation, they become angry and jealous. Perhaps they harbored the same ambitions or perhaps felt excluded from the inner circle with Jesus, but Jesus used this occasion to call them together to teach a lesson about discipleship.

The world practices a manner of leadership based on power, dominance and forceful authority. Jesus said all you have to do is look around at the Gentiles and ruling tyrants to see worldly leadership in action. However, in the kingdom of God, this is not the model for discipleship and leadership.

In an unprecedented reversal of worldly ethics, Jesus spoke of greatness in service rather than power. Greatness belongs to the one who is not great in the world—a servant. Servanthood is the highest calling in Jesus’ kingdom. Jealous and self-serving disciples are replaced by serving disciples. The desire for power, fame, glory and jealousy lead to loss of love and undue attention to one’s self. Rather, love and service by nature are focused on others and their needs.

What Jesus teaches about service and self-sacrifice is enfleshed in His own life. He told His disciples and us that He has come into this world to serve, not to be served—to give His life for our salvation. This model of ministry and discipleship does not come from this world, but from God’s kingdom. Jesus is the way and the Person to follow because He is the embodiment of giving, serving and loving. The servant is the most important position in the kingdom of God because the sole purpose of a servant is to serve and to give. This is what God ultimately has done and continues to do for us in Christ.

Imagine yourself sitting beside Jesus. Similar to James and John, many of us desire to sit on either side of Jesus. We seek to follow Him without counting the cost or heeding the call. After all, there is only one other place in Scripture where Jesus is in the middle, and there is someone on either side of him: Calvary. May we hold this image in our hearts and minds the next time we desire to have Jesus sit in the middle and we casually answer as we rush to our seats, “We are able.” 

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Proper 24 (B), October 19, 2003
When Jesus Sits in the Middle
Mark 10: 35-45

1. Seats for self-serving sons

This is Mark’s third passion prediction followed by a blatant request
for fame and honor in the mouths of James and John. This is the only
time in the gospel of Mark that these two brothers are named apart
from the other twelve. Their request for self-serving glory and fame
match their names: “sons of thunder”(3:17).

The
brothers want Jesus to sign a “blank check” to be cashed in the new
kingdom for seats of honor on either side of Jesus. They believe that
their journey to Jerusalem is a road leading to fame and honor and
they want to elbow their way to the front before the other disciples
make their move.
When Jesus asks them what they want Him to do, they want Jesus to
reserve two seats on either side of Himself and let them help Him
rule the new kingdom. The “sons of thunder” desire seats of
prominence, power and prestige. They are ambitious and know how to
look out for themselves. They have completely misunderstood what
Jesus said about the Kingdom of God and the role of suffering.

2. The Seat of a serving Son

Jesus
responds to this self-serving request in a caring and compassionate
manner. He tells them that they do not know what they are asking and
proceeds to clarify their request. He answers the brothers’ question
with a question, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be
baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized with?”

Jesus
reminds James and John of the Old Testament images of “cup” and
“baptism”. The cup was a frequent metaphor for suffering and torment(
Is. 51:17,22) and baptism was used to speak of someone who was
helpless and drowning (Ps. 42:7, Is. 43:2). But James and John hear
only glory, fame, honor and self-service in the call of Jesus while
Jesus keeps on insisting on suffering, service and servant hood. This
is reflected in their answer to Jesus’ question, “We are able.”

3. Seats for Jealous Disciples

When
the other disciples heard this conversation, they become angry and
jealous. Perhaps they harbored the same ambitions or perhaps they
felt excluded from the inner circle with Jesus. But Jesus uses this
occasion to call them all together to teach a lesson on discipleship.

The world practices a manner of leadership
that is based on power, dominance and forceful authority. Jesus says
all you have to do is look around at the Gentiles and tyrants who
rule this land and this world to see this worldly leadership in action.
However, in the kingdom of God, this is not the model for
discipleship and leadership.

In an
unprecedented reversal of worldly ethics, Jesus speaks of greatness
in service rather than power. Greatness belongs to the one who is not
great in the world: a servant. Servant hood is the highest calling in
Jesus’ kingdom. Jealous disciples and self-serving disciples are
replaced by serving disciples. The desire for power, fame, glory and
jealousy lead to loss of love and undo attention to one’s self.
Rather, love and service by nature are focused on others and their
needs.

What Jesus teaches about service and
self-sacrifice is enfleshed in His own life. He tells His disciples
and us that He has come into this world to serve and not to be served
– to give His life for our salvation. This model of ministry and
discipleship does not come from this world but from God’s kingdom.
Jesus is the Way and the Person to follow because He is the
embodiment of giving and serving and loving. The servant is the most
important position in the Kingdom of God because the sole purpose of
a servant is to serve and to give. This is what God has ultimately
done and continues to do for us in Christ.

Imagine
yourself sitting beside Jesus. Like James and John, many of us desire
to sit on either side of Jesus. We seek to follow him without
counting the cost or heeding the call. After all, there is only one
other place in Scripture where Jesus is in the middle and there is
someone on either side of him: Calvary. May we hold this image in our
hearts and minds the next time we desire to have Jesus sit in the
middle and we casually answer as we rush to our seats, “We are able.”
(Dennis Bolton)

_______________

The sermon brief provided by Dennis Bolton, Pastor of St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Lexington, SC.

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