Two opposing ideas were messing with the disciples' minds. First there was the confirmation of what they had recognized: Jesus was the Messiah. He was God’s promised anointed one. And to think that they, as ordinary people, had been chosen to be his disciples was an opportunity that they never imagined to be possible. It also filled the disciples’ heads with thoughts of greatness. They would rule with the Messianic King. They would have power and influence. They would be center stage in God’s Kingdom.
The opposing idea, which was ridiculous in their thinking, was that Jesus, the Messiah, would die. Even Jesus’ rebuke of Peter did not diminish their belief that Jesus would establish a Messianic Rule and that they, as his followers, would rule with him. The question they were concerned about was who would be the greatest among themselves. James and John even had their mother ask Jesus if he would elevate her sons to the second and third positions in the coming kingdom.
You will notice in this week’s reading that the two times Jesus speaks of his death, the issue is followed by who will be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom.
Jesus had a lot of work to do with his disciples. He was heading toward Jerusalem and his death. Jesus’ focus is on preparing his disciples for his death. He also wants to communicate to his ambitious disciples that in the Kingdom of God, greatness is measured by our willingness to follow Jesus by taking up our cross, denying ourselves, and following him. Part of what it would mean for the disciples to deny themselves would be to let go of their desire to achieve status by climbing the social ladder.
Jesus explained it this way after the request of James and John: Mark 10:42–45 (ESV)
42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, "You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant; 44 and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
In God's Kingdom, we are called to serve. And to serve well is to hear the words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'
Those are the words I want to hear. How about you?