SUNDAY’S READINGS | July 11, 2021
“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.’ 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’” (Mark 10:35-37). Their desire for position and power is, in some measure, shared by all the disciples. “When the ten heard it, they began to be angry with James and John” (Mark 10:41). Everyone, it seems, wants to be someone, a person of dignity, fame, renown, and glory. On a small scale, this may be harmless, the desire to be respected in one’s obscure sphere of influence. But, magnified by real power over human beings, this desire can be dangerous.
“So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom you recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all’” (Mark 10:42-44). In the kingdom that Jesus announces and is building, power is a form of service, not tyranny. So, for instance, even the pope has been called for many centuries Servus Servorum Dei. And do we not often speak these days of servant leadership?
“Recognized rulers” are necessary for the governance of the human community. They may work to restrain evil, punish crimes, and promote the common good. Their “recognition,” however, depends to a great extent on public displays of power, and this power requires that rulers constantly guard their reputation and perceived dignity. Playing the part is nearly everything. It is no surprise, then, that rulers will at times act in unjust ways to protect their position. Two New Testament stories illustrate the point. First: John the Baptist accused King Herod of entering an unlawful marriage. To appease the anger of his wife, Herod had John imprisoned. One day, Herod gave a great party to which he invited many dignitaries. Among the festivities, Herod’s daughter danced before him and pleased him. Then, in the presence of everyone, he solemnly swore, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it” (Mark 6:22). At the request of her mother, she asked for the head of John the Baptist on a platter. The king, constrained by his oath, had John beheaded. Second: Pilate, having found no fault in Jesus, handed him over. Why? He did it “to satisfy the crowd,” that is, to protect his position in a display of pathetic power.
So the world turns. Who will deliver us from this body of death? Is life only a play for power and prestige and reputation?
Strangely, everything changes with the entrance of a new king into our lives. Carried into our hearts, he calls forth dancing with songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets, cymbals, shouts, the sound of the trumpet, leaping and dancing (2 Sam. 6:5-16).
You wonder, “Who is he, this King of glory?” (Ps. 24:10). Jesus Christ is the King of Glory enthroned upon the heart and welling up to eternal life. For a moment, at least, forget yourself and your place in the world. Jesus Christ has come that your joy may be complete. He has chosen you, adopted you, lavished you with grace and every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1:3-7). Accept his love and joy. Hear him say, “Dance me to the end of love” (Leonard Cohen).
Look It Up: Verse 5 of Hymn 646
Think About It: Transport of delight