“Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.” “What is your request?” he asked. They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”” (Mark 10:35–37, NLT)
We’ve had a lot of flooding in Lansing recently. Cherie and I were driving down a major road during the flooding and came to an intersection that was flooded. Some cars were driving through the water which looked to be 12-18 inches deep. Cherie, who was driving, asked, “should I drive through that water?”
“No way!” I responded. We turned the wrong way into Chick-fil-a [Yay! We finally have a Chick-fil- a near us] and escaped the water. Later that evening, my daughter showed us a video of that exact same intersection. There were three cars stalled out in various places in the water. Two cars came driving down the street, one with a fairly high chassis and the other fairly low. Both cars tried to drive through the water. The one with the high center made it through, the one with the low frame became the fourth stalled out car in the water. I was flabbergasted. “What was that guy thinking?!?” [Actually, I called him a moron, but that makes me look bad]
I had much the same reaction this morning as I moved on in the Gospel of Mark. James and John want to be in prominent positions when Jesus sits on your glorious throne. There is nothing wrong with that request, correct?
But wait! Look what Jesus has literally just told them:
““Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, flog him with a whip, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again.”” (Mark 10:33–34, NLT)
Jesus is thinking about his upcoming suffering and death, while James and John are designing thrones for themselves in God’s kingdom.
Jesus asks the pair if they are willing to drink the metaphorical cup that he himself is going to drink. I love The Message paraphrase of their response:
“Jesus said, “You have no idea what you’re asking. Are you capable of drinking the cup I drink, of being baptized in the baptism I’m about to be plunged into?” “Sure,” they said. “Why not?” (Mark 10:38–39a, The Message)
What were they thinking?!? There is such nonchalance here that the reader can hardly imagine it.
The irony is that, as Jesus himself predicts, the pair (along with the other disciples, save Judas Iscariot) will drink the cup of suffering and death that Jesus will soon drink. A. T. Robertson comments here: “James was the first of the Twelve to meet the martyr’s death (Acts 12:2) and John the last if reports are true about him. How little they knew what they were saying.”
The Passion Translation points out at this exchange between Jesus and the pair: “This shows us that not only is the sacrifice of the cross difficult to understand, it also brings out the ambition that hides in our hearts.”
We would like to sit back and judge James and John for their delusions of grandeur and imagine that we would have been different in their place. The only problem with this (and it is a delusion) is that our hearts are exactly the same as these two guys. We are happy to be included in Jesus’ glory, but not so happy to be included in his suffering and death.