The Request of James and John
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it 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.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then 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.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But 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. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
I love the disciples in the Gospels because they are so human. They aren’t painted like people who have it all together – quite the opposite in fact. They don’t understand what Jesus is saying all the time, they ask questions like this one here that clearly rub Jesus the wrong way, they mess up, they argue with one another, they are…well…a lot like us. Jesus’ response here is pretty classic – he doesn’t rebuke them per se. He doesn’t say – “you morons, why are you asking me this?” But instead he gives them a message about whether they would really be able to follow. To their credit, they say that they are ready to do so…but this leads to yet another quarrel among the 12. We spent the afternoon today at King’s Island with some friends and every ride has a sign like this that gives every possible warning about riding. Trying to cover every eventuality, the signs basically say, “Are you able to ride this ride?” Are you healthy enough, strong enough, etc. Yet most people still walk right on in and ride the coaster, just as James and John did here – yes, Lord, we are able to do this.
Following Jesus isn’t easy and it isn’t glamorous. Jesus’ words reflect this as well – whoever wants to be first…well, this line of work isn’t for you because if you want to be first, you must be the servant of all. You must be willing to sacrifice and look to others before yourself. “Are you able to do this?” – Jesus asks first of James and John and then the other 10. And he asks that question of me tonight and of all of us. Are we able to listen to the warnings yet still say, “Yes, Lord, I will follow”