COMMUNICATION 08 - Jesus‘ Style Communication: Power Seekers

Both Matthew (Mth 20:20-28) and Mark (Mrk 10:35-45) include a telling story of the brothers James and John trying to secure their superior position in Jesus’ coming kingdom. The way Jesus communicates with them is fascinating:

Mrk 10:35       “James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him…”

Mth 20:20       “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him, with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him.”

  • “came forward” … clearly this was thought about, planned, now implemented
  • both together … they have suggested this to each other (apart from the other disciples), discussed this, approved this and are now implementing this … maybe they feel that one asking a position for himself is too plump, too obviously selfish. For two to ask for themselves or for each other feels slightly better
  • Matthew adds the detail that they place the request through their mother, through an intermediary. One can’t say ‘no’ to a mother wanting well for her good sons, right? This further shows the intentionality and planned-ness of the event
  • The fact that Mark doesn’t think it necessary to mention the mother is that it all comes down to the same: they wanted it, they did it. And they all together think wrongly, including the mother.
  • Why do they think they can place this demand? … they have been among the first disciples to be called, they have been included in special events (Jairus’ daughter’ resuscitation & transfiguration), they have signaled their loyalty (calling fire on the Samaritan village) … they are the inner circle, especially John.
  • They are competitive in their thinking (so are the others; their anger at James and John’s proposal will show that), they are pro-active, they think future, they want to secure their share (a lion’s share), they know how to play the favor-politics game.
  • They think like most Jews think: The Messiah will establish a physical Jewish kingdom by getting victory over the oppressors, the Gentiles and evil.
  • Their request shows their faith, their firm belief that Jesus will shorty bring about his kingdom in power – and Jesus will indeed, though very differently.

Mrk 10:35          “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

  • They ask for a blank check issued upfront … by strength of relationship or trust
  • This also implies that they don’t feel completely at peace with the nature of their request, they don’t state it straight, there is a hesitation, an indirectness … they well know that this will not be popular with the others.
  • How do they overcome this concern? Their assurance of their special status and the desire for the thing they want seems to overrule their sense of shame.

Mrk 10:36         “And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

  • Jesus doesn’t reject the question, neither the way it is brought forward indirectly (through the mother … and with the blank check preamble)
  • Jesus doesn’t give a blank check or upfront assurance. He simply asks for what they want
  • Jesus doesn’t base his answer or decision on closeness, relationship, obligation, clout, manipulation nor keeping everyone happy … rather on the actual request.
  • Jesus focuses not on who is asking, nor how it has been asked, but on what is actually asked.

Mark 10:37        “And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

  • They spit it out: a request for a position, for power, for leadership, for a role in Jesus’s glory or kingdom
  • Actually they ask for the highest position, the position of honor, the rulership, the role of representation … not exactly modest.

Mrk 10:38        “But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptised with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

  • Contrast … between what exactly? The loftiness of their request and the reality of Jesus’ answer? Jesus remains completely factual, he is not worried to lose their allegiance, nor using their ambitions for his purposes.
  • Jesus doesn’t rebuke their request for position, power or leadership … but he links it with the character, the faithfulness, the servanthood, the self-sacrifice this will require. So he says “You do not know what you are asking”.
  • They are seeing power, honor, influence, privileges … Jesus talks about what this kind of power, honor or influence means in terms of responsibility, in requirements on character and self-control. The want position, but not responsibility. Jesus basically answers that one can’t be had without the other in God’s kingdom.
  • What does Jesus link it with? … “drink the cup I drink” … implying selflessness, obedience, willingness to suffer, dying to self, self-sacrifice, even unto death.
  • What does “the baptism I am baptized with” mean? The word ‘baptized means ‘submerged, completely soaked’ … here a metaphor for suffering, being completely submerged in tremendous suffering.
  • Jesus will use the same metaphor in Gethsemane (Mth 26:39, Mrk 14:36) not too long from now. Already Jesus has started his announcements of suffering (Mrk 8:31, 9:30-32) for which the disciples have had no ears and no mental frame to understand.
  • Jesus knows and states that these two don’t really know what they are asking for, yet he asks them “Are you able?” He engages them to think about what they asked, forces them to dig deeper.

Mrk 10:39        “They replied, “We are able.”

  • They are either still really not understanding (‘you do not know’) or they are squirming by now but caught in their own scheme and feel they have to pull through.
  • Jesus speaks in such a way that would echo in their minds for weeks to come, and also make them ponder their own presumption.

Mrk 10:39         “They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized”

  • Jesus very graciously and in an affirming way picks up on their blatant or sheepish over-evaluation of themselves.
  • But Jesus’ words are also a prophecy: they will give their lives for God, they will suffer in their pursuit of Jesus.
  • It is interesting to note how this prophecy will fulfill: James dies as a martyr by beheading under Herod Agrippa I in around 44 AD (Acts 12:1).. He is the first of the 11 disciples to die a martyr’s death (though Stephen’s death is earlier).
  • But his brother John ends up the only of the 12 disciples that reaches old age and dies a normal death. Church history says he died around 96-100 AD in Ephesus.
  • Even though their deaths are so different, James and John both are described as ‘drinking the cup’ and being ‘baptized’.
  • This implies that in God’s eyes a martyr’s death and a life lived faithfully for God till the end is equal. God does not exalt martyrdom over long-term faithfulness and enduring service. Nobody has to seek martyrdom, though martyrdom may be required.

Mrk 10:40          “But to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

  • Jesus will not decide or grant this request or question. Who does? maybe the Father? maybe the type of life humans live?
  • Jesus knows his authority, he knows what is his and isn’t his sphere or role. All is in unity and at peace in the Trinity. No usurping, no self-defense.
  • ‘for those for whom it has been prepared’? Is this special grace or calling by the irresistible will of God? Or is it a fruit or consequence of the lives lived?

Mrk 10:41         “When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.”

  • Since the scheme was clearly competitive and would have relegated all the other disciples to ‘inferior positions’, the others are understandably upset and angry.
  • Probably they are also angry because they didn’t beat James and John to it.
  • Maybe the anger also masks a shame, because they were toying with similar thoughts in their mind. James and John got caught and embarrassed but it could have equally been them.
  • Their anger also betrays that they are thinking in exactly the same way as James and John: They think positions have nothing to do with who they are as leaders, but with currying favors and doing politics ‘successfully’.

Mrk 10:42          “So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognized as their rulers lord it over them, and their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”

  • Jesus uses the embarrassment, anger and eruption of a topic that had lurked partially under the surface, partially above the surface to do a foundational teaching. Their discussion ‘who is the greatest?’ is not long ago (Mrk 9:33-37).
  • Jesus knows this thinking is shared by all and he addresses it in all of them. With this he plays down the difference between James and John who ‘did it’ and the others who ‘were slower’. The issue is a heart attitude, one that is present in all.
  • By his words he keeps teaching and convicting James and John, who probably had been dreaming of themselves lording it over others, all right.
  • But by his teaching Jesus equally convicts the others’ “righteous anger”, because the same wrong thinking lurks in their minds and hearts as well.
  • Jesus acknowledges the sin-affected world as it really is: humans dominating humans and thinking that ‘normal leadership’. This is reality of the human heart without God.

Mrk 10:43-44     “But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among them must be slave of all.”

  • “It is not so among you” … “It will not be so among you” … “it should not be so”?
  • Jesus demands a completely different kind of leadership: selflessly serving, preferring others, no self-enthronement, self-importance nor self-indulgence.

Mrk 10:45           “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

  • This is the leadership God has shown. In Jesus is has become most visible.
  • Jesus does not command what he does not keep. Jesus has modeled this to perfection in his life, transformational leadership.
  • They, as his followers, need to be like Jesus, not shaped by the world’s ideas and standards of leadership, but only by his.
  • Jesus in no way denies or diminishes his own authority, kingdom and right to rule. Neither does he discourage the desire for leadership in the disciples. But he radically redefines leadership to God-like leadership.
  • When Jesus leaves this earth, he leaves behind the Holy Spirit … and eleven changed men, who then proceed to change the world. Their writings will become Bible. Their deeds will become history. They will prove to be a leadership that is positively affecting this world still today.
  • Am I willing to pay the price for leadership or do I still just want to be ‘the boss’?