Trinity 20 (B)
Rev’d Philip Heak
What is it to be a servant of God
I’m so glad we have the record of the Disciples in the Gospel. They always make me a little bit more at ease with the shortcomings of my own Christian life.
This morning we heard of James and John putting their foot in it. Jesus had just been blessing the children saying that the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
- He had told the rich young ruler that to love he had to sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor.
- He had plainly told the disciples that they were going to Jerusalem where the Son of man would be betrayed, mocked, flogged, killed and in three days rise again.
All quite wonderful happenings but, to the disciples, it does seem that Jesus may as well have been talking to a brick wall.
So we have James and John asking Jesus if they can sit at his right and left hand. The disciples’ impudence and lack of understanding is beyond belief.
How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children?
And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request is truly astounding.
So incredulous was this request that St. Matthew, writing a few years later than Mark, said it was James and John’s mother who makes the request – not the disciples themselves.
Jesus’ loving response is to take the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. Earthly greatness is defined as having power over, whereas divine greatness is defined as being servant to.
Eighteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Secker, said
“God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love.”
A slave is someone who has no will of their own.