One of the things that becomes readily apparent when reading the gospels is that Jesus’ teaching was often very counter-cultural. He invaded culturally accepted norms with surprising gospel truths. He said things like “blessed are the poor in spirit”, and “turn the other cheek”.
Although we don’t find that many instances of Jesus teaching in the gospel of Mark, we see one example in today’s reading that demonstrates His counter-cultural teachings.
In Mark 10, James and John ask Jesus to give them the seats of honor in heaven; one on his right and the other on His left. Now, to the typical American business man, this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. What’s wrong with this request? Aren’t they simply just taking responsibility for their own success? What’s so wrong with that? Sure, the other disciples “become indignant” because of the request by James and John, but isn’t that part of the deal? Haven’t we heard it before? “If you’re going to accomplish great things, you need to be prepared that some won’t be as excited about your success as you are.” We’re told that this is simply “part of the cost of great leadership”. What our culture describes as “most important” is accomplishment, success, making yourself more valuable to the organization…distinguishing yourself from your peers, etc., etc.
But what does Jesus say? What is His response to what happened?
42 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
Apparently first centuryPalestinehad their share of business leadership books and gurus as well, and the accepted mark of great leaders was no different from that of our culture today.
But Jesus countered that mentality….
43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There’s your counter-cultural teaching of the day from Jesus. What was wrong with James and John’s all-out push for the seats of honor in glory? They were looking out for themselves; they were consumed with a passion to succeed, but the measure of their success was warped. What matters in the economy of the Kingdom is not serving self, but serving others. Instead of being known as the guy in the lead, strive to be known as the guy who is the “slave of all”. And who does Jesus give as the supreme example of self-sacrificial servant leadership? Himself. For He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This is more than just a leadership tip. This is a window into Gospel living. This is the kind of counter-cultural living that results when our self-focused, self-absorbed lives are interrupted by the grace of God. May we likewise seek to give our lives away, for