Servanthood Defined

Mark 10:32–45
32And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.” 35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 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?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And 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, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Our ability to be selective listeners must have become a part of the human experience as soon as Adam and Eve fell into sin. Anyone who has raised children has firsthand experience in dealing with those who seem to hear only what they want to hear. It’s amazing that a child who has been told not to touch something immediately reaches for it. Jesus is now telling the disciples for the third time that He will have to suffer and die (this time in great detail) and yet they do not seem to hear what He is saying to them. They believed him to be the Messiah but had ears only for the glory connected with being the Messiah, not for the suffering. Their hearing has become selective.

It is remarkable that right after Jesus describes His upcoming death (and resurrection), James and John choose this moment to ask Him for positions of power “in glory”. They want to sit on His right and His left in the Kingdom of Heaven. So, Jesus patiently instructs them yet again as to the ways of God’s Kingdom. Lest we think the rest of the disciples are already clear about this topic, they express their deep distress about the fact that they didn’t think to ask Jesus first if they could be in those power positions.

In His response to this ridiculous request, Jesus takes the opportunity (yet again) to explain that greatness is found not in the wielding of great power over others, but instead in humility and service. Jesus is quickly arriving in Jerusalem and His greatest service will be accomplished as He is handed over to the Roman authorities to be hanged on a cross for our sins. Before that death He lived to serve all those around Him. He gave of Himself because of His great compassion and even stoops to wash the feet of these same power-hungry disciples in the Upper Room.

Most of us struggle with true servanthood. It is characteristic that carries much influence in the Kingdom of God and yet one that is rarely embraced. Those who are true servants stand out in our minds as great people. Even in our sinful state we recognize what makes someone truly great.