Monday, 19 October 2015
Sermon October 18, 2015 Mark 10: 35-45
Has anyone every asked you to do a favour for them? Did they do that without telling you what the favour was? Well if they did you realize that was a set up. It is an open ended request that could be for anything. You could blindly say “yes”, but it could be for something that you find you can’t do or don’t really want to do. That is the set up that James and John try on Jesus. You think that they would know better. They are Jesus’ close companions. They knew him and what great insight he had about human nature and the foibles and follies people sometimes tried on other. After all, he had been having mental duels with the Pharisees for quite a while. So here we have James and John, trying to pull a fast one on him. They ask Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Of course we are not surprized by Jesus’ response. He does not fall into the rather obvious trap they have set for him. “What is it you want me to do for you?” They go ahead and tell him what it is they want. What they want is quite the request. They want to be seated in the place of highest honour in God’s kingdom, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” This does not put them in a very good light when we step back and take a look at it.
They are thinking quite highly of themselves—not something you think of as being good disciples. I guess they were absent for the lesson on humility. The parallel passage in the Gospel of Matthew gives it an interesting twist. Matthew reports the mother of James and John doing the asking. Matthew, in his Gospel, which was written later than Mark and based much of that Gospel on Mark’s, appears to realize that James and John are not put in a positive light and try to put it on their mother. After all, what are mothers for but to do it all for their sons.
What we have is a misunderstanding concerning will. James and John believe that it is their will that should be in charge. They want, understandably, that they should be rewarded for all their faithfulness and sacrifice. After all, they had dropped their nets and left everything to follow Jesus when he offered to make them fishers of people. They had stuck with him through thick and thin, through the hard times and the good times. Why shouldn’t they have the place of honour in the Kingdom Jesus was proclaiming. It is only right and just. If not them, who else?
Unfortunately they had forgotten one of the key lessons that Jesus tried to get through their seemingly thick heads, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister”. He reiterates this lesson, albeit in Matthew’s Gospel when he teaches them to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. Your will be done—not theirs or ours—but God’s will.
That is one of the greatest challenges that we face as Christians. We need to figure out what God’s will is for us and for the world. That is indeed sometimes hard but we can turn to Jesus as our guide and he will show us quite clearly what God’s will is. The even harder thing is to truly put God’s will in place of ours. We humans are will-bound and we believe that what we want should be what we get. We want to have the place of honour in God’s kingdom and here on earth. We can even convince ourselves that God’s will and our will are actually the same. They can sometimes be the same but unfortunately that is not often the case.
Our ego, which is one of the greatest gifts of God, is also one of our greatest challenges. Each of us has an ego which wants to be in charge. It wants to maintain the status quo. It believes it is the centre of everything in life. Richard Rohr notes, “The ego wants to eliminate all bothersome, humiliating, or negative information in order to "look good" at all costs. The ego wants to keep you tied to your easy and acceptable levels of knowledge.” Ego is a Greek word that means literally “I”. The ego wants what it wants and will try to do everything in its power to get it. Now the ego is not all negative.
As I said it is one of God greatest gifts to us. Without an ego we could not be in the world. It enables us to strive to learn; to strive for success and for things it believe will make us happy. However, if we let the ego run us and the world, we are and will be in deep trouble. Just look at the world. Many of the problems in the world are due to people’s desire to be in control; people wanting power, and doing whatever they need to do, to gain it. In our personal lives we can be self-centred and egotistical to the detriment of ourselves and others. Think for a moment of the last time that you wanted something that you knew in your heart of hearts was not good for you or someone else; and did it anyway. The ego must find its proper place—which is in service of God.