The Favorite Child. The Talented Child. The Athletic Child. These three labels appear on Maria’s cell phone each time any one of our children calls her. Several years ago Sarah jokingly went into Maria’s phone and titled her contact as, “Sarah, My Favorite Child.” Joey, never one to be outdone, changed his contact to “The Talented Child” and Joshua, not wanting to be left out, became “The Athletic Child.” I still chuckle every time I see their incoming calls.
We live in a world where children are put on pedestals for just about everything. They are often taught that being the best is the only way to be successful. The focus is on being honored for our accomplishments. This week’s Gospel provides a valuable lesson along these lines.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?" They answered him, "Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left." Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" They said to him, "We can." 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 or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared." When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, "You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Mark 10:35-45
James and John are seeking places of honor with Jesus. Their priorities are misplaced and Jesus quickly explains why. Then Jesus capitalizes on the teaching moment as He explains the concept to the other disciples. Referring to the Gentiles, Jesus flips the worldly paradigm regarding those in places of honor. In a very direct way Jesus says, “…it shall not be so among you.” Then as if the idea of being a servant isn’t strong enough to make His point Jesus actually elevates the place of a slave. It could not be clearer, especially in light of the fact that Jesus concludes his lesson by predicting His death.
Of course it is part of our human nature to want to feel important and appreciated. And there is nothing inherently wrong in being honored, so what is at the heart of Jesus’ point? What “shall not be so?” When we seek honor at the expense of others we make ourselves more important. Jesus is asking us to place others before ourselves. This is a frequent and consistent admonition that Jesus makes throughout the Gospels. Then why do we struggle to live as Jesus commands? Because it is hard! And more than ever our world reinforces that life is supposed to be easy.
Our kids like to tease each other about their self-assigned titles of honor. However, upon graduating from college, Joey and Sarah have both chosen to serve with City Year. As a part of the City Year Corps, Joey and Sarah have worked to support students who need extra care and attention, focusing on attendance, behavior, and course performance through in-class tutoring, mentoring, and after school programs. (I got this from the City Year website so click here if you'd like to learn more.)
Joey and Sarah made a commitment to work through the challenging and sometimes heartbreaking situations they face with these underprivileged kids. They understood from the start that it was going to be hard but as corps members they were “all in”.
Jesus expects the same from me and you.