“James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, *came up to Jesus, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” They said to Him, “Grant that we may sit, one on Your right and one on Yourleft, in Your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to Him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drinkyou shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Calling them to Himself, Jesus *said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10.35 – 45, NASB)
Many people want to be great but not many people want to go through the trials and suffering that make them great. James and John, disciples of Jesus, wanted instant access to glory and fame not realizing that the path to greatness is marked with hunger, suffering, loneliness and sometimes death.
Jesus asked them if they were willing to endure the pain and suffering that he was about to go through. Their answer was yes. Don’t we answer the same way? From a distance, the pain doesn’t seem too bad or the suffering too great. Their pain almost seems glorious, kind of mystical – perhaps because we think we won’t have to go through what they went through to get the results that they did.
But there are no shortcuts to greatness, well at least, true greatness. It is earned by paying a high price. Think of Dr. King, Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Benazzir Bhutto, Nelson Mandela and even Jesus himself, just to name a few, all who paid a high price for their fame.
But that’s just the thing. These men and women of valor weren’t ever seeking after greatness; they were just seeking to change the world through one act of kindness, love and truth at a time. That’s why in the face of suffering, they were able to endure it understanding that their present pain would bring about lasting and sometimes even eternal rewards.
There is a difference between those who are truly great and those who are striving and propping themselves up to be. Those who are truly great are willing to go through the suffering, the pain, the crucifixion, the martyrdom, the Robben Islands. Those who are striving for greatness enforce suffering onto others so that they will be propped up by their marginalization.
Such is not God’s way. If you want to make a difference, if you want to change the world, if you want to be an instrument used by God to bring his kingdom to earth, prepare to drink the cup that Jesus drank and to be baptized with the baptism that Jesus was baptized with – if for no other reason that people will not like what you are doing. Challenging the status quo, speaking truth to power, proclaiming racial justice and reconciliation, and preaching the kingdom of God will ruffle more than a few feathers; these things will make people downright angry, afraid and they will hate you for it. But prepare to be hated, prepare to walk the journey alone, prepare to be abandoned at the very moment that you need others around you the most – these are the same shoes in which our Lord and Savior walked and He walked them willingly.
Run away from those who want the fame without the cross. With the cross comes humility and servanthood, and those who endure it walk away with an accurate perception of self – that they are nobodies. It’s only when you have that understanding of self and who you are in the grant scheme of things that you are able to lead change because first and foremost you have led yourself.
Those who are wanting to be great with no shred of humility in them, strive to lead others without first leading themselves. Like the Pharisees and religious/ political rulers in Jesus’ day, they govern others with rules that they themselves are not governed by in order to increase in wealth and power. Jesus himself tells James and John along with the other apostles to reject this line of thinking, Instead, embrace servanthood, understanding that servants pay a high price to lead the world.
Be ready to give your life, both literally and metaphorically. The image that the apostle Paul uses in 2 Timothy is fitting here: pouring one’s life out as a drink offering before God to the world. Those who are truly great are those who are willing to give up self and everything that comes along with it for the sake of the present and coming kingdom of God, understanding that the best thing we can do in this life is play a role in that.