They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” 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.”
Throughout Mark’s gospel the disciples are depicted as confused, unaware, and at times completely clueless, even in moments when Jesus explains things quite clearly. In today’s text Jesus tells the disciples for the third time that he will be condemned to death, mocked, flogged, and killed, only to rise again three days later. In the verse immediately following, James and John make quite an audacious request. Having just heard that Jesus will suffer greatly and die, they ask for a position of honor and importance in his coming kingdom of glory. The other ten disciples ‘began angry with James and John’, perhaps because they found the request inappropriate or perhaps because the two brothers beat them to the punch in making the same demand they wanted to make.
Jesus gathers them all together and offers a response that is both gentle rebuke and a total reframing of what greatness is in the kingdom of God—‘whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:43,45) The disciples have not yet grasped that Jesus’ greatness will be displayed not in an accumulation of power and prestige but in the pouring out of himself in love— for them, for us, for the world— in his passion, death, and resurrection. We who are likewise tempted by the allure of power, status, and influence must be ever mindful of Jesus’ corrective example and heed his call to follow in that way of self-emptying love wherein true greatness is found.
O Lord our God, you sustained your ancient people in the wilderness with bread from heaven: Feed now your pilgrim flock with the food that endures to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2006, p. 52)