Text is Mark 10:35-45.
There was once a melodic chicken named Spence, and a pig, we’ll call him John David. And Spence the melodic chicken decides that the two should start a restaurant. So, John David, the white-collared pig is captivated by this idea since Spence can’t cook, and he grunts to Spence, “Oink—That sounds spectacular. I’m a business-minded hog, sick of ‘working for the man every night and day.’ But what are you thinking we ought to call this new restaurant?”
Spence the melodic chicken clucks, scratches the dirt, and pecks at some grass, then crows out, “Ham and Eggs!”
To which John David the white-collared pig replies, “Well, that’s ambitious, but no thanks. You’d only be involved. I’d be committed.”
Fire in the belly. Desire. Moxie. Get up and go.
Call it whatever you like, it’s ambition—the goal achieving stuff of which dreams are made. Can be a good thing, but can turn into a real ugly thing if it becomes an end unto its own, when it causes one to lose sight of its cost or aftermath to others. When ambition fools us into seeing value alone in the prize, and precious little in the journey, we are corrupted by ambition. We are thieves.
When we’ve come to the ends-justify-the-means place, we’re thieves. We reinterpret the rules to suit our cause, to get our way, to attain our self-defined prize. Perhaps our thieving hearts say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Perhaps, with this request, we join the ranks of James and John. Perhaps we ask Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
And leave it to Jesus to point us away from the prize by pointing us to the journey. Leave it to Jesus to say to us, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’
And then, wouldn’ t you know it, trust us to turn the focus back from journey to the prize, to have more fire in our bellies than understanding in our heads, to say to Jesus, “We are able.”
And that’s when Jesus has the moxie to confirm our ambition, to say to us, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” But in the moment our ambition is confirmed, that’s when Jesus tells us the one thing we never want to hear, receive, believe, that we are going to have to suffer.
That was the way of Jesus and the way of James whose feast day we celebrate this day. James drinks the cup that Jesus drinks and is baptized with the baptism of Jesus at the violent hands of King Herod who had James, brother of John, killed with the sword, making James the first apostle to die for the gospel. There it is, the place of honor. Just leave it to Jesus to be the ultimate killjoy for our ambition, for our lust to claim the prize, for now we know the truth, that sometimes with suffering comes death.
There’s the full dose of realism that Jesus gives us to temper our voracious ambition. It’s a reality check. It’s the way Jesus brings focus, purpose, and meaning to ambition. It’s the way Jesus prompts you to have fire in your belly, but not to burn your burn bridges, or burn down your own house. It’s how Jesus reminds us that the journey and the prize are valuable, the both.
Yet still we say to Jesus, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” And now our motives are clear and have made us the talk of the town. Our words have the other apostles hot under their collars. Do you suppose that others, in seeing our ambition, see reflections of their own? See their own prize lust?
Do you suppose this is what motivates Jesus to tell us, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
And there it is, the Jesus mike-drop. Serving servants—serving servants as servants serving servants. No top cat, no lead dog, no one large and in charge, no big boss.
And then the One most entitled to be topmost cat, “lead-most” dog, most large and in charge, the biggest boss of bosses, says to us, “…the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There goes the ultimate prize—completely given away—a ransom for others, just leave it to Jesus to redefine ambition through love.
No wonder in John’s gospel Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
There’s the commandment straight from the One in whose glorious company, in honored places to his left and right, hang thieves like you and me. And now we’ve come to it. Are you like Spence the melodic chicken—only involved? Or, have you, like John David the white-collared pig, gone whole hog, gotten committed? You know the places of honor, and you know the command before you, you know it comes down to being involved or being committed, now who amongst you has fire in the belly, desire, moxie, and enough get up and go to obey it?