Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 24B (10/18/2009)

Do for Us Whatever We Ask of You

Lessons:     Isaiah 53:4-12     Psalm 91:9-16     Hebrews 5:1-10     St. Mark 10:35-45     Semicontinuous Series         Job 38:1-7 [34-41]         Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b (24)


Prayer of the Day Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

10:35 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." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 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?" 39 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; 40 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."

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."


St. Mark 10:35-45 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." Say what you will about James and John and their misguided ploy for power and glory -- but give them credit for their honesty. They have followed Jesus from the very beginning (St. Mark 1:19-20). They have witnessed the healing of Peter's mother-in-law (St. Mark 1:29-31), the raising of Jairus' daughter (St. Mark 5:35-42), and the transfiguration (St. Mark 9:2-4). They may not have understood what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah, but they know he is a man of power. They know what they want for themselves, and they are unabashed in their effort to obtain it. They lay their cards out on the table: "We've thrown our lot in with yours. We've followed you from the start. We know you can do it. Give us whatever we want." You have to give them credit for their honesty.

"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." As self-centered and offensive as the question seems in this context, how often this has been the attitude of Christians -- and how often this has been our own attitude! Think of it in terms of our prayer lives: it is easy for the entire content of our prayers to become a litany of requests -- a collection of our needs and wants. We might be a bit more subtle, and maybe even a bit less self-serving, than James and John. But nonetheless, ours is the same request: health, success, peace, delight, faith, hope: do for us whatever we ask of you... As we take a closer look at our own inclinations, we find that we have more in common with James and John than we often care to admit.

If James and John think that following in the footsteps of Jesus will be a life of getting whatever they ask of him, they are in for a rude awakening. As he has already attempted to teach them on at least three separate occasions, Jesus is on a mission. His mission will lead him to Jerusalem, and to the cross, and to the grave, and only then through the power of the resurrection to God's glory. In this week's text, James and John claim that they are able to drink the cup that Jesus is about to drink, but of course they have no idea what he is talking about. They will, indeed, drink that cup. Eventually James is killed by Herod (the only one of the twelve whose martyrdom is reported in the New Testament: in Acts 12:1-2). An ancient church tradition (ascribed to Tertullian, who lived from about 160 to about 230) reports that John went to Rome, "was plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and then exiled on an island." That island, presumably, would be Patmos, where John would have written the book we call "the Revelation to John" -- the last book in our Bible. Following in the footsteps of Jesus won't be, for any of the apostles, a life of getting whatever they ask for. It will be, instead, a life of giving whatever is needed to serve their brothers and sisters, and to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to the world.

So it is with us. Many in our day have abandoned a "cross-centered" view of Jesus for a "glory-centered" one. For them, Jesus is the source of success, self-esteem, wealth, fame, and glory. What a contrast there is between that image and the biblical picture of Jesus that emerges from this week's text! Indeed, God is one who delights in answering our prayers, and we lift up our cares and concerns with faith and hope. St. Mark would have us understand, however, that God is also one who calls us to be followers of Jesus in all that we say and do: to live among one another as servants; to understand this life as an opportunity to imitate the life of Christ, not seeking to be served, so much as seeking ways to be of service to others. This is an invitation to true joy, and it occasions the last words we share each Sunday: "Go in peace. Serve the Lord. Thanks be to God!"

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Gospel:

  1. What did James and John imagine, when they requested seats at the left and right of Jesus "in his glory?"
  2. How did Jesus' understanding of glory differ from that of James and John?
  3. In what ways would they grow into this understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus?

Connecting with This Week's Gospel:

  1. When have I been tempted to think of God primarily as one who "meets my needs?"
  2. What specific opportunities to serve others has God laid before me?
  3. How can I discipline myself to grow in my ability to live as a servant of Christ and of others?