3RD SUNDAY OF LENT, March 4
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Be still for as long as you need, then pray: Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
READ: Mark 10:35-40 ‘Are you able?’
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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it 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 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?” 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; 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.”
Are you able…? The Zebedee brothers boldly, perhaps somewhat arrogantly, answer, “We are able.” Wrong answer! They had no clue what Jesus was talking about. Despite the three warnings that he would suffer and be put to death by the ruling authorities, both Jews and Romans, the brothers futilely clung to their belief in Jesus’ triumph over the Roman occupiers. They were being blatantly political, assuming Jesus would establish a new government in Jerusalem and so they vied for the most powerful positions, on his right and left hands in what they assumed would be his new cabinet. They had also failed to learn the lesson of Jesus’ teaching about leadership (Mk 9:33-37; see devotions for day 5 of 2nd week). It’s not about greatness and power. They wanted positions of power so badly they were convinced they were able to share Jesus’ cup and baptism; they never even bothered to ask what he meant.
There is an occasion in Mark when two men were positioned on Jesus’ right and left hands, but it wasn’t a power-position; they were his ‘partners’ in crucifixion (15:27). This was far from the minds of the Zebedee brothers. Once again, Jesus was forced to tackle their persistent illusions about his mission and their false opinions about leadership. Yes, they would indeed experience the same cup and baptism (suffering, persecution, even death). James was one of the early martyrs of the Christian community. But, to sit at Jesus right and left hands was not his to give. “It is for those for whom it has been prepared.” Only God the Father had the authority for that.
Mark doesn’t explain this, once again leaving us to do the hard work of reflection. We don’t know ‘for whom it has been prepared.’ It seems that Jesus is teaching another lesson on leadership, inverting popular concepts to show us another way. Leadership in God’s Kingdom “belongs only to those who learn and follow the way of nonviolence—who are ‘prepared’ not to dominate but to serve and to suffer at Jesus’ side” (Meyers. 1991, p. 278).
James and John thought they were able to sit at Jesus right and left hands for all the wrong reasons. Jesus had to bring them down to size. Sometimes we boldly ask Jesus for something for all the wrong reasons as well. What do you want and what might Jesus be saying in response?
That challenge is Jesus giving you today?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Help me, Lord, to discern what it is you want me to do and why. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST, for the right reasons.