Week of Feb. 20: Jesus came to serve
Rev. Teresa Edwards
Lesson scripture: Mark 10:35-45
History continues to teach us if only we will learn. At the Ocmulgee Indian Mounds in Macon, visitors encounter a structure called the earthlodge. The reconstructed lodge gives the people of today a glimpse into the lives of the Native peoples who called this land home. After navigating the low entranceway, the interior of the circular earthlodge opens up to reveal a room used for ceremonial purposes. A raised platform in the shape of a large bird catches your attention immediately. “The platform itself has three seats, which are higher than the other 47 seats along the circular wall.
Clearly the leaders sat on the platform and as every seat leading to these three seats is progressively higher than the one before it, participants were likely seated in order of importance.”(Ocmulgee Virtual tour) Looking at the seating in the earthlodge on our last visit, I wondered about the people who took the lower, smaller seats as opposed to those who took the larger, more important seats on the platform.
Everyone, from the disciples to the people who inhabited the earthlodge to all of us today, wants the best seat and the most recognition. Living the life of a servant, Jesus challenges disciples then and now to address their misunderstandings about success in this world. In Mark 10: 35-45, Jesus redirects our desire for greatness with a lesson on humble service.
Disciples seek service, not status
Can’t you see James and John planning their approach? Maybe they rehearsed what they might say to Jesus the night before. Maybe they’d been waiting for a long time for just the right moment to ask. They deemed that the moment had arrived. “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward 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 on your right hand and one at your left hand, in your glory.”(Mark 10:35-37)
Before looking at Jesus’ response, let’s consider their request.
James and John approach Jesus to convince Him to grant their desired wish. Yet they come with their own selfish interest in mind. Seizing the moment for themselves, the two ask for places of prominence, prestige and power. “Using the seating order of royalty – a king flanked by his most trusted and worthy companions on either side – the two disciples claimed their due honor. They apparently thought that God’s realm recognized special status for Jesus’ friends.”(“New International Lesson Annual,” Duerling) They also apparently had room to grow in their understanding of the service that Jesus desired from His followers. So do we.
“James and John wanted to be recognized as the greatest of Jesus’ disciples, so much so that they asked for the honor of being seated at his right and left hands when he ruled in the glory of his kingdom. They believed, with the secular world, that position and status were indications of greatness.” (Daily Bible Study) Their ideas about greatness look like ours - MY power, MY piece of the pie, MY prominence, MY place.
The world teaches that looking out for number one and putting ourselves first is the sure path to success. Jesus explains again and again that “any disciple who wanted to achieve greatness in Jesus’ kingdom would have to follow Jesus’ example and take on the role of servant.”(Daily Bible Study) In a culture that feeds our desire to be great in human eyes, Jesus demands that all who call themselves disciples look to serve, not to status.
How do the seeds of service grow in our hearts? Jesus continually encourages all who follow Him to become true servants of God. James and John move on from this moment of human weakness to become faithful witnesses to Jesus’ saving power. Overnight changes are rare but small steps in serving lead to larger steps in holy living. Even those we consider to be the greatest of servants grew into the service they are known for today. Mother Teresa taught high school girls for 20 years, a fine form of service, before living into God’s new call to serve among the poor in India. Everyone grows into their call to serve throughout their walk of faith. By embracing Christ daily, our desire for worldly status slowly dies and the seeds of love and service bloom.
Disciples lead by serving
World leaders often abuse their position. Throughout history and today that truth remains self evident. Jesus warns the disciples against the potential danger of the power they thought they wanted. Instead He reminds them that “it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”(Mark 10:43) To be a disciple, to be a servant leader, calls for something different. Humble servants willing to be last instead of first always find their place in God’s kingdom.
In the popular show, “Undercover Boss,” presidents of wealthy companies go undercover to learn about how their business actually works and to get to know their employees’ perspective. For those CEOs brave enough to give this experiment a try, these bosses learn valuable lessons not just about the inner workings of their company but about the hearts of the men and women who make their business really run. In addition to gaining knowledge, they also gain the respect of the persons with whom they worked side by side in the trenches. Corporate leaders who learn to serve learn to lead.
Disciples who learn to serve learn to lead. Jesus makes clear that a life of service is the only way. “A disciple of Jesus Christ is called first to be servant of all, and the leader is to take the lowliest position of service. This system turns the world’s concept of leadership upside down. The first disciples found it hard to understand and even more difficult to live by such a value system. But Jesus seems to say there is no other way. Disciples serve.” (“A Guide To Prayer For All Who Seek God,” Job)
Lord, teach us to serve you in all things, we pray!
Rev. Teresa Edwards is the associate pastor at Forest Hills UMC in Macon. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.