The Trouble with Pride of Place
Every so often when reading different stories in the Bible, I land on an interaction between the characters that jolts me out of the reading. The Passage from Mark for Sunday is one such passage. It jolted me so far out of the reading, that it inspired writer's block!
Here is the situation: Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He has been telling the disciples parables and other teachings about the kingdom of heaven. He has been foretelling his death, and also his resurrection. He has been trying to prepare his followers for the time when he, himself, will not be with them and they need to continue to do the good work of caring for the poor, healing the sick, living life in such a way that honors all people and shows them the love of God through all their actions and interactions. Jesus is trying to teach his disciples a way of living that is other-centric, without greed and selfishness. He wants his disciples to lift up the world not by amazing wealth and power, but by caring for the lowly and actually lifting each other person up.
In the middle of all this, along come the brothers, James and John. They began following Jesus at the same time; they have been by his side from the beginning. They have had just about the most exposure to Jesus' teachings. So, what do they do with all that knowledge? Do they go out and serve others? They were fishermen in their life prior to Jesus: do they open up fish markets for the needy where all can get their daily meal? No - these two who should know better ask Jesus if he can grant them pride of place next to him, before any of the other disciples, before any of the people they were supposed to be helping to raise up.
Brief story time: I don't remember when I first learned of calling "shotgun" as a way of claiming the front passenger seat in the car; I do remember feeling resentment at the sneaky tactics sometimes employed in the use of "shotgun" - bribing the driver with cookies, cornering them in the hallway, all manner of different ways of claiming that front seat. In college, I had a small car my senior year, and I quickly established among my friends that "shotgun" didn't work for me. My rule was the tallest person who is willing to serve as navigator and coordinate the comfort of everyone else in the car gets the front seat - you had to be willing to serve.
Back to Jesus and the troublesome brothers...
Jesus' story has a bit higher stakes than a road trip; Jesus is talking about what it takes to save the world. And he says that what it takes is the willingness to give up the potential accolades of that pride of place position. To serve others is not about name recognition, but about making a difference for one person, and then another, and then another. As people see your example, they have the opportunity to make the same choice, to make a difference for someone else. If we all make a difference for each other person, then soon the entire world will be lifted up, but not through the greatness of one person, but the service of many.
As for the cookie bribes? I saved them as snacks for the entire car to enjoy on the road trip.