Forthright Magazine

To be truly great

The way of the world is to always want to be the best, to be the one who is ‘on top’. We are taught from a young age that what is important is to be the one who is recognised and honoured. Jesus’ disciples had the same thoughts when it came to following him.

“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ he asked. They replied, ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’” (Mark 10:35-37 NIV)

What was wrong with this request? What was wrong with wanting to be the ones who sat beside Jesus? We would refer to this as wanting to be his ‘right hand men’ – they wanted to be the top in authority next to Jesus himself! They wanted to have the power that went with such a position.

“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said. ‘Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?’ ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink and be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.’” (Mark 10:38-40)

Jesus questioned whether they realised what they were requesting. Could they go through what he was about to go through? They were sure they could – and Jesus said that they would. They did suffer great hardships for simply being Jesus’ followers. They were threatened (Acts 4), beaten (Acts 5), and James was the first apostle to be executed (Acts 12). Yes, they would go through what Jesus went through. But to give them positions of power was not what Jesus was about.

“When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Mark 10:41-45)

We can relate to the anger the other apostles had against these two. Weren’t they all Jesus’ selected followers? Who did James and John think they were?!

The problem they had, which many still have today, is that they thought greatness was all about being in charge and being able to exercise authority over others – to be able to tell them what to do. But that was not what Jesus wanted or needed. True greatness isn’t in being the one on top telling others what they should be doing. True greatness is in being the slave of others, in being the one who does what is needed to be done.

As always, Jesus is our example. He didn’t come to be served but to serve. And he showed this by giving his life to pay for our sins. He served in the greatest way possible.

On D-day we think of those who gave their lives eighty years ago in ridding the world of Nazi oppression. They gave their lives so we can live in a free world. But Jesus did even more: he gave his live so that we can live free from sin now and then live with him in eternity.

Rather than seeking to see how we can get others to serve us we need to follow Jesus’ example: look for the best way we can serve others. True greatness isn’t in being the one in authority but being the one who is the slave. We need to learn to serve.

Image by RDNE Stock project from Free for use.

Readings for next week: Mark 9-13


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