Can You Do Me a Favor? (Palm Sunday, 6th Sunday in Lent)

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

“We can,” they answered.

Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

Can you do a favor for me?” What is your response to such a request? It varies, doesn’t it? If it is my wife, my answer is, “Of course, what do you need?” If it is a co-worker, my response is more likely to be, “What do you need?” before I say, “Of course.”

In today’s text, Jesus gives the second answer. James and John, the beloved brothers, were among his closest disciples. John even refers to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” in his version of the Gospel. But something in this situation causes Jesus to pause before agreeing. He does not trust their judgment to make a reasonable request. Jesus does not expect the request to be along the lines of, “Would you heal our sick mother?” or “Would you teach us more about prayer?”

Jesus’ caution is justified, because their request is audacious and disappointing. James and John seem to sense that something big is going to happen. Maybe their miracle-working teacher will throw down with the Romans and become King of Jerusalem. If so, they want to be first in line for the best jobs in the new Jesus Administration.

All is not lost, however, for while Jesus refuses the request, he uses it as a teaching point. This appears to be partly a strategy to protect the brothers from their indignant fellow-disciples (who are maybe wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that first!”).

Jesus’ lesson is about leadership, and this is the primary text for the popular agenda today of being a servant-leader. We should admit that “servant-leader” is every bit the oxymoron today as it was in Jesus’ day. Leaders don’t look for people to serve, they want followers. Before we discard the idea of a servant-leader, two things should be noticed:

  1. For Jesus, being the Servant of All did not compel him to grant the brothers’ request. Being a servant of others does not mean you attend to their every whim. It means you care about others.
  2. For Jesus, his own role as Servant of All was tied to his willingness to die on the cross as a “ransom” for human sins. Being a servant of others means you care about others more than yourself. Way more.

As we come to the end of our Lenten season, may we examine our attitude to others. Do we truly care about them? Do we care about them more than we care about ourselves? Way more?

Mark Krause
Nebraska Christian College of Hope International University

The opinions of this blog are those of the author, not necessarily those of his employer.