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Summary: What’s your motive - what drives your life?

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But 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?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then 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; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So 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. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:35-45 (NRSV)

1Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. 5So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; 6as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.”

7In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 5: 1-10 (NRSV)

Have you ever played darts? If you have, you know the idea is to hit the center of the target. Some places on the target are worth lots of points, and some are worth little. You don’t aim at the low scores!

People who think and act magnanimously aim to hit the bulls-eye every time. Those who act pusillanimously take whatever they can get without too much effort. This is the essence of the living the Christian life as it was intended, as opposed to taking the low road of self-indulgence.

Paul Wadell defines the two terms, magnanimous and pusillanimous:

Magnanimity literally means to be of great soul or spirit, and it characterizes persons who remain resolutely focused on the utmost possibilities for life. By con¬trast, pusillanimous men and women lower their sights and regularly opt for whatever is easier, more pleasurable or quickly attainable. Not willing to devote themselves to disci¬pline and sacrifice, they foster puny ambitions and thus deny themselves the joy and meaning and satisfaction that come from transcending themselves in love. [2]

Our two texts show the contrast here. In Mark we see James and John opting for pusillanimity; the writer to the Hebrews shows us the magnanimity of Jesus. Someone has also said that “…there is a sadness that comes from renouncing greatness.” [3]

The Peter Principle of Pusillanimity

The Peter Principle is “…the theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent.” [4]

In Mark’s account, James and John ask Jesus for a promotion; Jesus tells them they don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. He reminds them of times he’s forecast persecution and hardship. The question is: are you able to bear that? They say “yes,” but they really don’t understand; their eyes are glued to the prize of being right and left hand men to the King. Pusillanimous!

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