Whenever you make a mistake in life, do you like to tell people about it? If you stick your foot in your mouth, do you tell others about it so they can stick it all over Facebook? Certainly not! It humiliates you when your mistakes and embarrassments are made public. So when we understand how the gospels came to exist, we should be impressed when we read about the mistakes of the apostles. We just heard from Mark's gospel, and Mark wasn't one of the original followers of Jesus. Mark didn't follow Jesus around the Holy Land and just write things down as they happened. Mark was a follower of Peter well after Jesus's Ascension into heaven, so everything Mark wrote about came through Peter and others.
So today, James and John know that what they want to ask Jesus is a little inappropriate, so they ask Jesus to agree to it before they even ask. But Jesus is not so easily tricked, so he gets their request from them and and sees that they are seeking power. To sit on the right and the left of Jesus, whatever their vision of his kingdom, would be positions of immense power. And they're ambitious, these guys are known as the Sons of Thunder. When Jesus explains what this will entail, the cup that he will drink and the baptism with which he will be baptized, they insist they can handle it. These were indications of his coming suffering, but they were not deterred. And then other disciples become indignant, because they want power too. So Jesus needs to teach them about true power and true greatness in the kingdom he's setting up.
And power in Jesus's kingdom is going to be a reversal of power in any other kingdom in the world. "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all." Jesus doesn't tell us that to be great or to desire to be great is a bad thing. No, we were made for greatness. And Jesus doesn't say this as a sort of threat or a warning. It's not like he's telling us that if you try to be great you'll be punished by being a servant, or if you try to be first you'll be punished by being the slave of all, that's not what he's saying. What he's trying to explain is that if you want to be great or if you want to be first, this is what you do. Greatness to Jesus isn't the same thing as greatness to the world. To Jesus, to be great is to be humble.
Now, Jesus doesn't preach humility just because he likes it when we all walk around and talk about how awful we are and how great everybody else is. Rather, he's teaching us that greatness comes in living for others. Sometimes we think it's only our modern world that's especially selfish, and certainly we have our own problems with self-centeredness, but apparently Jesus needed to correct the same error 2,000 years ago. But when we think about who we know, we realize that we don't consider great those who are truly selfish, those who work their way to the top by stealing from others and then can't be bothered to help others. We don't think of that as greatness, no matter how easy they have it. Rather, we realize that to be truly great means you lay down your life for someone else. The apostles were great men because they laid down their lives for others. Mother Teresa was a great woman because she laid down her life for others. Every parent that gets up day after day even though they don't always feel like it to care for the children God has given them are great people.
Greatness comes from service, from living for others, because this conforms your life to Christ. So here's your job this week: look around you at all the people you know and all the problems you know they have and say, "What can I do to help?" If you can find a way to relieve the sufferings of another, that will make you great. If you can find a way to help others where no one will know and no one will thank you, that's even better. That makes you great because it's how you live for others. Jesus lived and died for others, and to the extent that we can imitate that, we can be great like Jesus is great.