The disciples were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ 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 baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ 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; 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.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘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.’
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
How patient do you consider yourself to be? Many of us have heard, and perhaps used, the saying: ‘Patience is a virtue’. Many of us, if asked, will describe ourselves as being ‘patient’. But, are we really? Pause for a moment and think about the times your sense of entitlement has been thwarted by someone else’s inactivity or inefficiency. Think of the rules and regulations that have stood in the way of your doing something … there must have been many such occasions in the last year or so! Think of the harsh words that have sprung to your lips when your need for instantaneous gratification has been denied by someone else. As you ponder those moments in your life, consider again your answer to the question: ‘How patient do you consider yourself to be?’
Jesus statement of his mission to serve is a reminder to all of us in respect of our lack of patience. Our impatience reflects that of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, in today’s reading. Those two faithful disciples, having heard Jesus’ prediction of the fate that awaits him in this world, were impatient. Having sacrificed all to follow Jesus, they were anxious to stake a claim on the reward they pictured for themselves: to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory. Rather than allowing the age-old prophecies to play out to the end, they were keen to engineer their own place in the story, a place of glory and honour.
Many of us would like to know the path God has laid for us to follow. We would also like to see the ‘happy ending’ that our imaginations have constructed for us. But, as we concentrate our energies in this way, we forget to leave room for God. It is not for us to know our destinies, it is for us to discern God’s call for the present, and then to follow that call wherever it might lead.
Jesus spells out for us the path we should be seeking. Jesus, God’s Son come down to earth, places himself in his loving Father’s hands. He responds to God’s call to love and serve, and he allows himself to be led down a path where the glory of God is far from obvious … well, until the whole story has played out.
We all like to dream of fame and glory, of victory and its attendant recognition by the wider world. But that is not God’s way. The path we are to follow is one of humility, love and service. Such a path is not necessarily glamorous and it will certainly try our patience from time to time. But we, like James and John, are to have faith that, if we remain true to God’s calling, we will ultimately come to our place in God’s kingdom.
Next time our frustrations bubble over and we feel the urge to utter cruel and impatient words, let us pray that we might pause and remember Jesus’ words and deeds. Let us pray that we might not shout and tut in exasperation, but turn our anger and our impatience into expressions of Christian love, even if the endgame is still a mystery to us.