(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
As Jesus and the disciples walk the long journey to Jerusalem, the disciples have a chance to figure out what Jesus' mission is all about. Each time he mentions his suffering and death, they miss the part about the resurrection. The disciples cannot hear about the freedom and life of the Kingdom of God because they cringe at what Jesus knows will happen first. It is better to think of other things.
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.”
Wow. Who says something like that?
Little children do. Sometimes little children demand that parents or brothers or sisters do whatever they say. Little children do not have a lot of control over what happens to them, but they sometimes act as if they do. Perhaps James and John think that acting like little children will help them enter the Kingdom of God. Didn't Jesus say something about little children receiving the Kingdom?
Somehow, though, this does not seem right. Whose will do they want done? God's or their own? If we are honest—as James and John are certainly honest about their demand—this is often how we pray. It would be really great if God's will was the same as our own.
And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Ah. James and John want to share in Jesus' glory. God has glory. Glory is how MAGNIFICENT God is. James and John are thinking of a moment to come, when Jesus' mission is fulfilled, when he has done what he has come to do.
But Jesus says,
“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?” They replied, “We are able.”
James and John are thinking about a moment that is yet to come without considering what has to happen first. They want to share his glory, but Jesus asks them first to share his cup and his baptism. James and John do not seem to consider what this means at all. They simply answer, "We are able." Is it clear what Jesus means? Are they sure they are able share what Jesus asks?
What is the cup that Jesus drinks? We think immediately of the cup at the Last Supper, filled with the wine that Jesus proclaims is his blood—his life poured out for many. When Jesus prays in the garden after the Last Supper, he says,
“Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14:36)
Clearly, Jesus does not want this cup. We start to understand that drinking this cup involves pouring out his life; it involves suffering and death. We would totally understand if Jesus chooses not to drink it. But it is also clear that however much Jesus is afraid or would rather choose something else, he firmly prays for God's will, not his own.
Considering what we hear of James and John in this Sunday's Gospel, are they able to share in this cup?
Jesus also speaks of his baptism. Long ago, we listened to St. Mark's account of Jesus' baptism. We know how much Jesus wants all to be right between God and us. He is fully committed to the Kingdom of God, to giving his life for the dream of its fullness. In his baptism, Jesus accepts this as his mission, even though it leads to the cross. For this, he is chosen. This, he chooses.
Considering what we hear of James and John in this Sunday's Gospel, are they able to share in this baptism?
But Jesus says,
“The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 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.”
Jesus says James and John will share in his cup and baptism. We know certainly, though, that they are not able to share the mission as fully as Jesus does. They are not beside him at his death. Instead,
And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15: 27)
But even though they are not able,
even though they act like little children,
even though their will is not yet united with God's—Jesus can work with them.
If he can work with bandits on his right and on his left, he can work with us all.
He offers us all a share in his mission.
And he gives us a way to begin:
whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
We begin again, each time we come to realize that we want our own will to be done, each time we forget about God's will. We look to each other's needs—not their demands. We serve their needs. When we do this, we share in the mission of Christ, who comes not to be served but to serve.
Will we also share in his glory? Jesus says that is God's decision, not his own. He also says, though, that he gives his life as a ransom for ours—a ransom, something that is given so that others may have freedom and life.
Freedom and life? That sounds like the Kingdom of God.