Summary: Lent 5: James and John ask Jesus for seats of privilege at his right and left. Ambition, power and glory are often pursued - but at a cost. Glory to Jesus is much different than what we see... Be careful what you ask for!

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One of my favorite movies of all time is The Christmas Story. The character around whom the story revolves is nine year-old Ralphie. Now more than anything else in the world, Ralphie wanted a Red Ryder BB gun. But every time he mentioned it, he would be rebuffed. Ralphie asked his momma for the BB gun and she said, “No, Ralphie, you’ll shoot your eye out.” So Ralphie schemed and thought that he could get his teacher to be his ally in the quest for his BB gun. So Ralphie worte an essay extolling the virtues of the Red Ryder BB gun. His teacher returned it with a grade of C+ and with a note that said, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” So Ralphie went to the department store Santa Claus and after telling Santa what he wanted, the Santa told him, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” as he shoved poor Ralphie with his boot down a long slide. On Christmas morning Ralphie is scrambling to open the gifts under the tree. None of them is his treasured BB gun. Then his father points out a package that Ralphie had missed. Excitedly Ralphie opens the gift to find – you guessed it – his very own Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock, and this thing which tells time. So Ralphie puts some BBs in the rifle, takes it outside and with his very first shot – gets a BB that bounces back and hits him in – his eyeglasses. Poor Ralphie! You have to be careful what you ask for.

I want to introduce you to a couple of Ralphies – a couple of brothers – who were asking for something that it is clear that they didn’t completely understand. In our Gospel Lesson for today, we find James and John – the sons of Zebedee – asking Jesus for a very special privilege. Let’s read about it together:

[35] Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." [36] "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. [37] They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." [38] "You don’t know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" [39] "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, [40] 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 10.35-40, NIV)

The question that James and John asked belies a very common misunderstanding about Jesus. They asked the Lord, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” Jesus was born at a time when the nation of Israel was under the military control of the Roman Empire. The people of Israel were looking for a powerful, messianic figure to come unto the scene to deliver them from Roman oppression. When Jesus arrived – He was not recognized as the Messiah because He came as a meek and humble servant. Nevertheless, the thought of the all-powerful deliverer was never far from the minds of the Jewish people – even from James and John as they asked Jesus for the privileged seats at this side.

What James and John didn’t understand when they asked to be at Jesus’ right and left when He came into his glory was how God understood glory. The concept that James and John attached to glory emanated from the notion of a powerful Messiah. Glory to them was about conquest and squashing the enemy. It was about Israel becoming the center of the world. Glory was about ruling and authority and power. So when the request to be at Jesus right and left was made – it was truly a request to be at the center of power. James and John – be careful what you ask for.

We all know people who have given up everything in order to get to the top - their integrity, marriages, family, some even their very lives. The lure of the next promotion; the chance at being next to the seat of power; being able to call the boss by his or her first name – all of these and many other chances for the brass ring are the reason that so many people crawl out of bed. That is what they live for – climbing the ladder, recognition, honor, glory. Most don’t really understand the cost of what they are pursuing. Be careful what you ask for.

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