As we continue our journey through Lent, Christians throughout Columbia will be sharing their own beautifully written ‘letters from the heart.’ Each is accompanied by corresponding relevant scripture verse(s), and linked to sources for further study. If you would like to join us on Columbia’s Lenten journey, submit your ‘letter from the heart’ by email. Especially meaningful submissions will be printed. Let us continue our Lenten journey of repentance, meditation, and anticipation day-by-day, to its glorious culmination on Easter morning.
Today’s scripture reading is from the Gospel of Mark 10:32-45.
They were on the road, going to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to Him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death; then they will hand Him over to the Gentiles; they will mock Him, and spit upon Him, and flog Him, and kill Him; and after three days He will rise again.”
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 at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 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?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with my baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but for those for whom it has been prepared.
When the other disciples heard this, they began to feel angry with James and John. 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life for a ransom of many.”
I have sometimes thought that I would like to know what the future holds. When we look at what Jesus was able to foresee, though, how many of us would want to have this kind of foresight? In this third instance of Jesus foretelling His own death and resurrection, Mark tells us that “those who followed were afraid,” yet Jesus is matter of fact. Judgment and death are the cup He is given to drink, and He accepts this. He is at peace.
The action of James and John that follows may surprise us. How presumptuous it seems to ask God for special favors and honors! Yet isn’t this what we too often do in our own lives? How often do we try to place ourselves in positions of honor or power by virtue of our education, our income, or our job title? The car we drive, or the house we inhabit, may become for us symbols of our own worth, yet for God, these things don’t matter. Jesus would have us all assume the role of servant to others, yet out pride often gets in the way; we would prefer to BE served.
American popular culture is full of references to God and prayer. Some organizations suggest that if you pray in the way they propose, God will send material wealth your way. Others pray for specific outcomes that they themselves desire, whether to medical situations, or interpersonal dramas, or job status. This kind of prayer often neglects an important part of the prayer that Jesus himself taught us: “Thy will be done.” It can place us in the shoes of James and John, who made specific requests of Jesus in an effort to gain advantage for themselves. When we pray, what do we ask of God? Are we asking Him for the things we want for ourselves to serve others in His name? A prayer attributed to Saint Francis has become a favorite of mine over the last few years because it reminds me of my own role as a servant. This is the prayer that begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” The second part of the prayer underlines the importance of giving and serving:
“O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled
As to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loves, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
I am thankful for all that God has given me in this life, yet I know that I fall short in my efforts to use these many gifts for His glory. During this time of searching, asking and listening, may we each find the work that God has prepared for us, and the strength and courage to serve Him in all that we do each day.
Trinity Cathedral Parish
Columbia, South Carolina
If you enjoyed this Lenten meditation, you can find more at Sharon's Columbia Biblical Studies Examiner homepage.