Summary: James and John had to be taught to rethink the definition of success. Do we need the same lesson?
George W. Truett, a well-known pastor, was invited to dinner in the home of a very wealthy man in Texas. After the meal, the host led him to a place where they could get a good view of the surrounding area.
Pointing to the oil wells punctuating the landscape, he boasted, “Twenty-five years ago I had nothing. Now, as far you can see, it’s all mine.” Looking in the opposite direction at his sprawling fields of grain, he said, “That’s all mine.” Turning east toward huge herds of cattle, he bragged, “They’re all mine.” Then, pointing to the west and a beautiful forest, he exclaimed, “That too is all mine.”
The man paused, expecting Dr. Truett to compliment him on his great success. Truett, however, placing one hand on the man’s shoulder and pointing heavenward with the other, simply asked, “How much do you have invested in that direction?” The man hung his head and confessed, “I never thought of that.”
I read that story several years ago and it has always stuck with me. The wealthy man took a postion that is common in our day. One in which a man’s success is measured by the wealth he has accumulated; or by the possessions he has acquired; or by the titles he has gained. It’s an attitude cultivated from the time of our early childhood, even in many Christian homes. It is an attitude that has been nurtured by Madison Avenue and the media, and one on which the makers of hundreds of products depend. It was not the attitude of Christ, or the one he desires us to have.
To understand the attitude Jesus desires of us we can look at his response to James and John as they seek the honor of being seated beside him.
In Mark 10:42-45 we find that response. (Read)
It is interesting to note, and I suppose should be of some consolation, that James and John, who walked with Christ, at this particular point in their journey are still not grasping the significance of Jesus’ life and work; that these two saw the coming Kingdom in terms of grandeur and sought positions of authority or dignity within it. In other words, they were seeking some outward, visible sign of success. But they were seeking this confirmation of their achievements in terms which would be easily recognized.
Jesus’ answer to James and John, as well as to his disciples today, is that we are no longer to measure success in the manner in which man is accustomed.
To James and John, Jesus’ contrasts the ideals of his Kingdom with those of the empire in which he lived. Rather than seeking lordship over others, Christ’s disciples are to commit themselves to the service of others. And he offers himself as an example; “For the Son of Man came not be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is not the only time Jesus offers himself as an example. At the Last Supper, following the washing of the disciples feet we read Jesus’ words in John 13; “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”
Today Jesus might also compare his Kingdom to the world in which we live. He might contrast his example of servitude to the example set by the “me generation.”
We may not always demonstrate our desire for preeminence through the exercise of authority over others. Today we may be more likely to concentrate on the accumulation of material possessions, or seek a better contract with more perks and fringes. Or perhaps sacrifice the time we should give to Christ and His church so that we can spend more time at the office to get that promotion.
While it may not necessarily be bad to desire certain possessions or to increase your earnings to better provide for your family; or even to aspire to receive a promotion; the danger is that the more we focus on the things we want for our lives the more difficult it is to see and serve the needs of others.
Recall the rich man who asked Jesus how he could have eternal life. When told to follow the commandments the man replied; “All these I have observed; what do I still lack?”
Then Jesus answered; “Sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven; and come follow me.”
Jesus did not ask the man to give up his riches because having them was a sin. He ask him to give them up because they stood between the man and what Jesus wanted of him; his service to others. He asked that James and John give up their desire for glory and honor in exchange for what he wanted of them and the other disciples; their service to others.