They must have been taking notes. I am talking about James and John after their encounter with Jesus at the beginning of Mark 10. In verses 13-16, Jesus took a break from adult instruction to bless some children. This did not seem right to the disciples, so they appointed themselves bouncers and got to work immediately. Jesus was not pleased. He scolded them, welcomed the little ones, and identified childlikeness as the prerequisite for coming into the reign of God: “Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it” (Mark 10:15).
That pronouncement must have made an impression on James and John, for their behavior in this week’s reading was nothing if not childish. Their bold request came in two parts. The first part was more general: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (verse 35). They were acting like the little girl with pigtails who climbs up on her father’s lap and tells him she has a question. Before she asks it, however, she insists he must promise to say, “Yes,” no matter what she asks for.
It is easy to be critical of them. But we should acknowledge their request came from a place of child-like (if also childish) faith. They asked Jesus because they believed He had the power and the interest in helping them. For His part, Jesus’ response seemed to affirm their line of thinking. Rather than scolding them, He invited further conversation: “What do you want me to do for you?”
This leads to the second part of their request. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They were jockeying for positions of power and honor, which is what people do with those who reign over kingdoms of this world. They clearly did not realize they were dealing with a different kind of king. “You do not know what you are asking,” He told them. Despite the fact that He had just predicted His passion and resurrection for a third time, they failed to grasp how glory in the Kingdom of God would come through humility and sacrifice.
Despite the fact that He had just predicted His passion and resurrection for a third time, they failed to grasp how glory in the Kingdom of God would come through humility and sacrifice.
Following His exchange with the Sons of Thunder, Jesus called the twelve together for one final lesson before entering Jerusalem in Mark 11. It was a lesson about the upside-down nature of God’s reign in Christ.
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).
Honor would be shown to the least. Power would be shown by its opposite. The way of glory was marked with humility.
Which brings us to your sermon. As you consider how you might use this text to proclaim an appropriate message for your hearers, I suggest inviting them to identify with and learn from Jesus’ interaction with James and John. You could do this in two parts by (1) affirming their childlike trust in Jesus, and (2) deepening their understanding of His reign.
Part 1: Begin by affirming the kind of trust in Christ which asks for anything. This is not to say we should ask Jesus to serve our every whim. But those who believe Jesus can do anything and is willing to do what is good for us should not be discouraged from speaking honestly to the Father in Heaven. The fact is our prayers often sound like the request of James and John. We may not put it so crassly, but we could preface most of our requests by saying, “Jesus, I want you to do whatever I ask you to do for me.” While this is a childish perspective, it also comes from confidence that God is both willing and able to help. Do not make your hearers feel bad for this. But do not let them stay there, either. Expand their prayers and their hopes for themselves to include requests for strength to serve others.
Part 2: This leads to the deepening of their understanding. God is after much more than meeting the particular wishes and desires of a few individuals—whether they are James and John or the members of your congregation. Jesus has come for the restoration of all creation, the renewal of all things, the redemption of the cosmos and everyone in it. This includes your hearers. He does this through sacrificial suffering and selfless surrender—which is where Mark’s Gospel goes shortly after this text when Jesus enters Jerusalem to suffer, die, and rise. Your hearers enter the story after His resurrection. Through Baptism, they have been incorporated into His Kingdom and become part of His people, who are a servant-people who follow their servant-Lord. He transforms our conception of honor and position by putting us ahead of Himself, and then by inviting us to put others ahead of ourselves.
In this upside-down Kingdom, we continue to enjoy a relationship with God which includes coming to Him in prayer for all things. But it also leads us to imagine greatness as servanthood to those who appear to be the least.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 10:35-45.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 10:35-45.