One of the strongest characteristics of the Bible is that it calls things as they are. There’s no smoothing rough edges, candy coating, massaging personalities or anything else. The Bible presents people and events straight up.
Take the men that were the closest of Jesus’ disciples. The term disciple means a follower of someone- which they were. But when you read about them in the Gospels- as they are going through the process of becoming Apostles- a more fitting term could easily be the ‘duh-ciples’. Despite living alongside Jesus for years, they were often perplexed and missed some of the most significant things Jesus was teaching them. For His part, the Son of God is patient with their shortcomings. ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses…’ the book of Hebrews tells us.
The brothers James and John are the ones Jesus called the ‘Sons of Thunder’. We’re not sure why, but we are sure that Jesus always did and said things with purpose. They were involved in a small fishing operation with their dad and when the Lord called the brothers, they immediately left the family business to join Him. So, we know they were impulsive and fiery.
Once, when Jesus and the designated dozen were passing through Samaria, the Lord tried to arrange overnight accommodations. The Samaritans would have nothing of it; they were Jews after all. The response from James and John, ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to consume them?’
Wanting to destroy someone because they disagree with you, don’t accept you, or don’t want you around is definitely over the top, but does that mindset sound familiar? Some things never seem to change.
Nevertheless, this is not God’s way and Jesus would have none of it. ‘You don’t know of what spirit is driving you! I didn’t come to destroy but to save’, He tells them. And He expects that we aim to do the same.
In the Gospel of the day, the thunderous duo approach Jesus with a request- a business proposition really. They wanted to sit in the power seats on either side of the Lord when He set up His enterprise- His Kingdom. They had invested in Jesus and, essentially, they wanted the best possible return on their investment. So, they try to make the deal and move before any of the other disciples thought of it themselves.
‘You don’t know what you’re asking’, Jesus says- more amused then annoyed, I think. Are you willing to undergo what I will undergo?’, He asks. ‘Oh sure’, they say. ‘Right then, and so you will.’ Jesus confirms. (You can almost hear them say: ‘Duh, thanks!’) They, of course have no idea what that means.
Then correction comes. ‘If you want to be truly great, you must think and act first for the benefit of others’, Jesus tells all of them. It takes a while to sink in.
There are a lot of reasons people identify others as being great, perhaps for their artistic or athletic ability, for their business acumen, for their power or influence. But, the most important thing to God is how we serve others.
The Apostles had trouble aligning themselves with Jesus. We often do too. We aim for the thing that we think is the best for ourselves. When we do that, we aim too low.
The Apostles, with God’s grace, through determination, finally learned that true, eternal greatness means living lives in service to others. That’s it. Straight up. Game on. Are you ready?
Deacon Greg Osgood