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Mark 10:35-38 – James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus] and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." (NRSV)
Jesus had just broken the news about His imminent death to His disciples, whom He considered as friends, and yet all that James and John could think of was to look and feel important in His glory. The coolness in Jesus' response is humbling and surprising. It is not the kind of reply that one would expect to such an insensitive and provocative question.
James and John were in pursuit of future greatness in the kingdom of God. In life, there are many definitions of greatness. Greatness is symbolic, subjective, and open to debate, depending on the culture and tradition of a particular place and the importance that people place on position, power, and possessions. Some examples that come to mind are the extent of their wealth and the ensuing ability to amass property, their position on the corporate ladder, the power and influence that they yield, and their popularity. In Africa, greatness can be bestowed, as in the case of a village chief. Chiefs are entitled to marry many wives in recognition of their superiority. We pursue greatness in our lives so that we have a sense of belonging or to "keep up with the Joneses".
The current credit crunch has revealed that many of those who were held in high esteem because of their wisdom in creating wealth have now been reduced to the status of villains and have fallen from grace. Greatness now requires a complete overhaul. Some, out of distress and shame, have taken their own lives, because they did not have the courage to face the world. It is this addiction to material wealth that leads us to sin and further alienates us from God.
In Mark 10:43-44, Jesus goes on to teach His disciples, "But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." (NRSV)
To the followers of Jesus, the concept of greatness is simple: it carries with it a willingness to serve, not to be served, rather, to put others first all the time.
Prayer: Lord, may we seek Your kingdom first and shun all the things that bring unhappiness and emptiness in our lives. Only through service to others can we attain true greatness. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
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