Summary: A stewardship sermon on taking up a life of service rather than self-centeredness. Includes time, talent as well as money.
What Is It You Want?
The Scripture reading today contains a very interesting story. What is even more interesting is that just before this story, we read that Jesus was saying to the disciples, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise” (Mark 10:33-34). Jesus had just shared with them the truth that was weighing on his heart. Something terrible, something shocking was about to happen. It would profoundly change their world. It should have horrified them and saddened them. But apparently it went right over their heads, and as if they did not even hear what he was saying, two of them approach him with a request. It is not a request to keep them strong in the hour of trouble which he has just described. It is not a request for him to help them know what to do when these things happen. It is not a request to let them know what they can do to help him in the ordeal he is about to face. No, it is not about Jesus at all. It is a request for themselves. They want to be promoted.
Before they tell him what they want, they say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” Jesus shows no sign of being irritated with them for being so slow-witted and unfeeling. He simply says, “What do you want me to do for you?” There can be no more important question than this from Jesus. The weight of their whole character depends on how they respond to this question. And what do they ask? Their request is: “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” They are looking for a place of honor. Talk about an ability to miss the point!
Almost the same story is in the previous chapter. Here too, he had tried to tell them about his coming suffering and death. But it says, “When he was in the house, he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the road?’ But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:33-34). Even at the Last Supper this was utmost on their minds. The Bible says, “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.’ They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this. Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest” (Luke 22:20-24). To the very end, the disciples were not concerned about the salvation of the world, or the need of the people in the world. Primary in their thoughts, from beginning to end, was about who was greatest. Is it possible to be any more self-focused than they were? This is one of those classic adventures in missing the point.
It is interesting how the disciples’ time with Jesus somehow became all about them, even though they believed in him and followed him. As I have mentioned before, the disciples were better at keeping people away from Jesus than they were at bringing them to him. We never see them trying to help each other, and we never see them bringing other people to Jesus — either for healing or forgiveness. Remember the time that the disciples tried to keep parents from bringing their children to Jesus for a blessing? The Bible says, “Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them” (Matthew 19:13).
Then there was the time that a woman anointed Jesus with perfume as an act of worship and gratefulness for what he had done for her. But the Bible says, “When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. ‘Why this waste?’ they asked. ‘This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor’” (Matthew 26:8-9). They would have stopped her if they could have. There were others they tried to stop as well. They once came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (Mark 9:38). “He wasn’t one of us,” they said, “He didn’t belong to our church. He was of another race and another country.” And when one of the Samaritan villages did not welcome Jesus, the Bible says, “When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?’” (Luke 9:54). They weren’t concerned about their salvation, they wanted their destruction. They were insulted and wanted to take vengeance.