PASTOR’S CORNER, David Harris, Fellowship Baptist Church, Liberal
What comes into your mind when you think about greatness? Our culture provides all kinds of images. Examples abound in celebrity politics, the entertainment industry, and the sports industrial complex. How you imagine greatness reveals what you value most. If you value power, the powerful people are the epitome of greatness. Money? The wealthy win the day. Is fame your thing? Then the famous have achieved greatness status in your heart. Where does your imagination take you?
In Mark 10:32-45, some of Jesus’ followers were concerned about their greatness. So a couple of them have a question for Christ: “Can we get the two best seats in your glory?” When Jesus rules they want to be right beside him. They want greatness, as they understand it. And when they imagine greatness, they think of a throne room and where they will be sitting in it.
It seems very out of place doesn’t it? Why are the disciples talking about their prominence in the kingdom when Jesus has been talking about his execution? (vs. 28-31)
Mark is helping his readers see that Jesus’ followers are not always on the same page as Jesus. Sometimes Christ needs to help his people reimagine what they have imagined wrongly. Thinking of their future reward, James and John are concerned about their Lord’s recognition of their greatness. The problem is not the idea that they will be rewarded: the problem is that their notion of greatness has been shaped by the world around them. It turns out, Jesus has a much different understanding of what true greatness entails.
So, he questions their readiness to follow him: “Let’s not talk about what positions you get or won’t get: that will be decided later. Let’s talk about this instead, are you ready to have my baptism and drink my cup?” James and John are of course not ready. That’s the point.
He wants to redirect their attention, to change their understanding of greatness. His response is not that no one will sit on his left or right hand, but instead that this is not his main concern right now. He wants to talk about his rejection and public death. That is what his mind is on and that is what he wants them to focus on in this moment. They are thinking throne room, he is thinking place of execution.
He does not rebuke them for seeking greatness. Instead, he demonstrates that greatness among his followers will be lived out by sacrificial service. The ten seem pretty frustrated with James and John, perhaps because they wished they would have asked first. But Jesus indicates that the two brothers are not the only ones whose imagination needs a bit of re-wiring. He points them to how the people around them think about greatness. Authoritarianism, control, abuse of authority are the attractive options for the would be greats — and here one is given a palpable reminder of how precious little has changed in our own day from the first century Roman world, at least when it comes to how people define what it means to be great.
Jesus is telling his followers that their thinking, to some degree, has been misinformed by their environment’s view of greatness – after all, they clearly did not get these visions from his teaching. So, who will set the standard of greatness for those would become practictioners of Jesus’ way? The answer is those who most align their lives with Jesus’ mission of self-sacrificial service. The metric of service in Jesus’ kingdom is not the willpower to step on others for one’s one good, but the willingness to serve for the good of others.
Notice that the Savior points to his own passion as the ultimate example for greatness (vs. 45). What Jesus was about to do as they inched closer to Jerusalem was to die for sinners to bring them to God. The self-giving suffering that lies at the heart of the gospel is not just a one-time ticket, a way in, but the way of life once you get in. The cross is both the way into heaven, and is no less the basis for an apprenticeship with the Lord Jesus.
We need to cultivate a biblical imagination of greatness. And this means any Christian can achieve it Any follower of Jesus can live for others: any follower of Jesus can live a cruciform life. The disciples are asking, “When Jesus sits on the throne, where will I be sitting?” Jesus is telling them, “You’re asking the wrong question: you need to reimagine this.” And with his prediction of his own death, he takes the hearts of Mark’s readers from their coveted recognition to a bloody cross.
How have you been imagining greatness? Will you let Jesus give you a new imagination?