To Serve and Not Be Served

Travis Rogers, Jr.

To Serve and Not Be Served

4 mins
October 20, 2021

Mark 10:35-45

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.” 

Wow! Talk about inappropriate. These two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approach Jesus with a remarkably bold, even brash, demand of Jesus. and make no mistake, it is a demand and not a request. The words that mark uses are vivid and full of meaning. He says that the brothers “came forward to him.” coming forward means that they are separating themselves from the other ten and they are setting themselves ahead of the rest.

In the Gospel According to Matthew, chapter 20 verses 20 through 22, it is the mother of James and John who brings her sons before Jesus and she kneels and asked her favor that the boys be exalted to his right and left side.

Obviously, the Gospel writers remembered things a little differently. Let's give them a break because they were written several years apart from each other. The Gospel According to Mark is probably written around the year 68 AD (just before the destruction of Jerusalem) and the Gospel According to Matthew is written around the year 75-80 AD (after the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple) The same goes for Luke.

Whichever was the case, whether it was the brothers or their mother, it is clear they still do not understand. Remember, they had argued about who was going to be greatest in the Kingdom in Chapter 9. In that same chapter they tried to keep others from using the name of Jesus in deeds of power because they were jealous of their position. Now in chapter 10, the sons of Zebedee make another attempt at a power grab. Jesus has to tell them all, yet again, that it is service that makes one great; humility and caring for others is what exalts a person.

Here's the really horrifying thing: The request of James and John is very similar to Herod’s offer to the daughter of Herodias, his stepdaughter, in chapter 6 verse 22. That is not a mistake or coincidence. The author of Mark is a better writer than that. Just like the disciples had answered the question who do you say that I am with the same words that Herod used when trying to describe Jesus (remember, they both said that Jesus was either John the baptizer come back from the dead or Elijah or one of the prophets), They now approach Jesus in the same language as Herod and their desire for a favor. 

Mark's Gospel is making it clear that the disciples haven't learned anything. they have walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, been taught by Jesus, and they still are no better than Herod. They sound just like him. Was Jesus perplexed by all of this? You bet he was.

He has to tell them again that he is going to suffer, be persecuted, and die. This time, he warns them about them wanting to drink from the same cup that he drinks and being baptized with the same baptism with which he is baptized. 

They answered Jesus “We are able.” And he assures them that they will drink of that cup and endure that baptism.

Pastor Elizabeth Bier and I were talking about this text and it called to mind for her the scene from the movie Star Wars where young Luke Skywalker tells master Yoda that “I am not afraid.” Yoda responds, “You will be.” 

In chapter 14 of Mark, Simon Peter will make the same kind of boast that James and John do about their extreme confidence in their ability to follow Jesus. Sadly, when the persecution comes, all of the disciples flee.

In the end, who is it that is at the right hand and left hand of Jesus? Are they seated on Thrones next to him? Jesus tells the brothers that God will appoint those who are at his right hand and left hand and it will have nothing to do with merit. It will have everything to do with identifying with Jesus, especially the crucified Jesus.

Once again, who is it on the right hand and the left hand of Jesus? It is the two criminals who are crucified beside him. It is the outcast and it is the guilty who are beside Jesus. Even though they may not identify with Jesus completely, Jesus identifies with them. Just like he always had with the publicans and the prostitutes and the lepers and the sick and the unbeliever.

Ironically, James and John do take a sort of bookend position. James will be the first to die among all the disciples in 44 AD. John will be the last, dying of old age around the year 100 AD. James was beheaded by a sword at the orders of King Herod. John would suffer being boiled in oil and yet surviving. Perhaps John suffered the cruelest fate of all—to live on when his family, his comrades-in-arms, and his Savior were all gone.

In the last verses of our lesson, Jesus once again reiterates to the disciples, who were now angry with James and John, bet unbelievers use authority as a means for tyranny. Jesus says, not so among you. If you want to be great, your greatness is in service and humility. If you want to be first, it will be because you put yourself in last place.

My father was a pastor for 50 years. He was a great example of what Jesus had advised his disciples. Whenever we had a church dinner or a picnic or anything of the sort, dad was always the last in line. Everyone else went first. It was his job, he believed, to make sure everyone else’s needs were met—the children were fed, the mothers we're fed alongside their children, the elderly, and finally, he, the pastor, would go last. When I went away to teach at a seminary, I attended a local church. One Sunday, they were having a Sunday dinner and the pastor of that congregation went to the front of the line and said loudly, “Everyone behind me!” I think it was then that I realized just how fortunate and blessed I had been to have a pastor and a father like I had.

That is the kind of Savior that we serve. He called us; we didn't call him. He found us; we didn't find him. As Jesus says in that closing passage of our text, “the Son of Man came, not to be served, but to serve.”

God grant us the Grace to be servants of the sisters and brothers, the world, and the unbelievers.

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.