Scroll Top

Pick Me! / Fifth Sunday in Lent

Mark 10:35-45

And they said to Him, “Grant us to sit, one at Your right hand and one at Your left, in Your glory,

When James and John requested seats of honor in the kingdom of God, they had no idea that true greatness in that kingdom belonged to those who carried a cross and those who served others. That’s a lesson we’re still learning today.

Reggie was a man with an inflated opinion of himself. His friend, Charlie, decided that as a friend he should help Reggie learn a little humility.

One day Charlie mentioned to Reggie that he knew George Clooney. Oh, yeah, Reggie said, prove it. In a few minutes they were in front of a large house with beautiful grounds. After ringing the bell, out came George Clooney saying, Come on in, Charlie, and bring your friend. On the way home Reggie grudgingly said, Okay, so you know George Clooney.

Obviously, this was not enough, so Charlie said offhandedly, Yes, he was quite happy when I introduced him to the president. The three of us have gotten together a couple of times down on the ranch. Reggie looked in the air at nothing and cried out, That’s too much. I’ll pay the costs. Let’s go to Washington and see how well you know the president. At the White House, they just arrived and out came the president to greet them, saying, Come on in, Charlie, and bring your friend. Later, Reggie looked around the office sheepishly and admitted, Well, yeah, you do know the president.

Charlie sensed that his friend needed further deflation. So casually he remarked, Yeah, but you know the pope has a nicer office.

What! yelled Reggie with disbelief, You know the pope! I’ll bet you 10 thousand dollars you can’t even get in to see the pope. In a few days they went to Rome, where Charlie knocked on the door to the Vatican. A cardinal came out and shook Charlie’s hand, and invited him in. Looking at Reggie he said, I’m sorry, but your friend will have to wait outside.

Reggie waited outside the Vatican in a crowd of people. After about an hour, the pope came out onto the balcony, waving at the crowd, with one arm around Charlie. Reggie was simply astonished.

Later, when Charlie came outside, he found Reggie passed out cold in the courtyard. He rushed over and assisted his friend. He apologized for shocking him. Reggie just shook his head and mumbled, It’s not that you know the pope that floored me. It was the crowd. They kept asking each other, who’s the one in the white robe with Charlie?

But back to our story of James and John. It was like something from a pick-up game on any elementary school playground. Like two little children throwing their hands up in Jesus’ face and crying out, Pick me! Pick me first! Chose me, Jesus, so that I can have a place by your side when you sit on Your throne.

Talk about the need for a lesson in humility! James and John should have been sitting at the front-row in that classroom. And it’s obvious that these two disciples didn’t know what they were asking. They had no clue how much they would have to identify with Jesus in order to be at His side throughout what was ahead. They were asking for seats of honor, on either side of Jesus. What Jesus asks them in return was, in effect, whether they would be willing to take a bullet for Him. They were requesting a place in the spotlight, while Jesus knew the spotlight would soon shine on the cross.

James and John tried to set Jesus up like two conniving children setting up a parent. Right there in front of the other disciples, yet pulling Jesus aside, they said to Him, Teacher, playing on His ego so as to set the right mood, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Now, did they really expect Jesus to whisper Sure, my sons, what is it you want? Just name it, and I’ll do it. As a matter of fact, I’ll give you three wishes, just like any self-respecting genie would. Do you think that’s what they expected Jesus to say?

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had just spoken to His disciples for the third time about His approaching death. And each time that He attempted to prepare them for the bitter truth, they seemed to stick their heads in the ground and tried to change the subject. It’s like they didn’t hear Him, or at least didn’t want to hear what He was saying. Yeah, okay Jesus, you’re going to die. We’ll all die someday. But when You become king of the world and sit on the throne in Your fancy, schmancy palace, can’t James and I sit on either side of You and wear nice, elegant robes?

What were they thinking? I figure we’re all entitled to one really dumb question in our lifetime. This must have been James’ and John’s.

In fact, did you know that one of President Teddy Roosevelt’s children once said about him: Father always wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

Was it so important for James and John to be in the limelight that they kept missing the point of what Jesus was trying to tell them? And what about the other disciples? They don’t seem to be upset because of the inappropriateness of the question the brothers have proposed, but that James and John are trying to get first dibs on the best seats in the kingdom. It’s at this very moment, when the 10 other disciples join in the bickering, that Jesus sets them straight. Whoever wants to be first among you, must be slave of all. That’s not what the disciples had in mind as they prepared to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. But that’s the lesson Jesus came to teach.

An admirer once asked Leonard Bernstein, the celebrated orchestra conductor, what was the hardest instrument to play? He replied without hesitation: second fiddle. I can always get plenty of first violinists, but to find one who plays second violin with as much enthusiasm or second French horn or second flute, now that’s a problem. And yet if no one plays second, we have no harmony.

Jesus looks for harmony among His disciples. He knows that as long as we serve one another and not try to outshine each other, we will keep our focus on the mission of God’s kingdom. Jesus doesn’t measure success the way the world does. For Jesus, the greatest achievement we can accomplish is to humbly serve others.

There was a gentle old man working at a seminary who brought clean linens to the students living in the dorms. He always gave a speech to the new students about their mothers. He said that while they were at this school, living in this dormitory, they should think of him as their mother. He promised to watch over them like an eagle. He told them not to behave in any way that would upset their mother.

This man, about 80 years old at the time, was an ordained pastor with an illustrious past. He had served his church well, first as a pastor, then as president the local region, and ultimately becoming the vice-president of the entire denomination. Now, in his declining years, he carried clean sheets and pillowcases, and cheerfully took the teasing of fresh-faced students who had no idea how important this man had been to the church.

The remarkable thing about this story is that it was his decision to serve this way. Rather than retiring to a life of leisure and memories, he continued to serve his Lord and his church the best way that he could: serving others, helping to prepare hundreds of ministers to lead congregations. His teachings at that seminary were the most memorable of any of the entire staff because he taught solely by example.

What does it mean to serve without considering yourself first? A cold wind was howling and a chilling rain was beating down when the telephone rang in the home of a doctor. The caller said that his wife needed urgent medical attention. The doctor was understanding, I’ll be glad to come, but my car is being repaired, could you come and get me? The caller seemed annoyed and in an angry voice sputtered, what, in this weather?

Pick me! we cry out. We want to be chosen. We want to be the first one on the team. We want the teacher to see our hand first and let us answer the question. We want the promotion to a better and a higher paying job. Pick me! We want the best table and the best seat in the restaurant. We want the best position to see the play or hear the opera.

Pick me! We want to be served first and best. But Jesus is choosing people to serve. He’s choosing people who are willing to drink from the cup that He drinks from, and to be Baptized in the waters in which He was baptized. That’s an awesome cup from which to drink, and those are perilous waters in which to step. A drink from that cup can kill self-importance. A dip in those waters can drown an ego.

Do you still want Him to pick you?