July 25th is the day that is set aside in the church calendar to commemorate the Apostle James (aka James son of Zebedee aka James the brother of John aka James the Elder). In honor of that event in our church calendar we will look at when James and his brother ask Jesus for the best seats in the house when Jesus comes in his glory (in the Matthew 20:20-28 account it is their mother who does the asking).
One of my favorite authors, Gordon Atkinson (aka RealLivePreacher) wrote a version of this story folding in the demoniac who was healed in Mark 5:1-20. I would commend this version to you as well as it is a wonderfully engaging account. Let the reader beware there is PG-13 language to be had in this version. If you still want to read it you can find it at: James, John and Crazy Joe.
May we blessed as we celebrate the life and testimony of James and take the rightful place that Jesus has prepared for us in the kingdom of God.
35 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." 36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38 But Jesus said to them, "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?" 39 They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 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." 41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
There is a call on each and every one of us created in God’s image who have been baptized into life in Jesus--that call is to one of service.
Jesus came and showed us this by pouring his life out on the cross.
Jesus came and showed us this by pouring water in a basin and doing the lowest work that could be found on behalf of those who would abandon him and deny him and betray him.
Jesus came and showed us this by letting a Samaritan woman pour him a drink which allowed her to be empowered and affirmed and engaged breaking all sorts of cultural taboos.
Jesus came and showed us this by letting his cousin John pour water over him and baptize him even though John thought it should be the other way around.
Jesus asks James and John (not the baptizer) if they are able to drink his cup and share in his baptism. They say that they are. Perhaps they weren’t so sure during the trials and throes of Holy Week that soon followed. Perhaps they weren’t so sure during the persecutions of the church. But Jesus was with them. And he never forsook them. And they have taken the places prepared for them--the ones he himself went to prepare (see John 14:1-3). James and John are secure because Jesus made promises on behalf of God. And Jesus fulfills the promises of God.
Perhaps there is a cup that we might like to pass our lips. Perhaps there is a foreboding baptism. We might be wondering if we can put the cup to our lips or be immersed in the baptism that is before us. We might cough out an “I’m able, Lord” or we might just keep a dubious silence. There may be times where we feel persecuted or in over our heads or abandoned. But Jesus will not forsake us. There is a place that is prepared for us too. Jesus went to prepare our place and he will return for us. We are secure because Jesus made promises on behalf of God. And Jesus fulfills the promises of God.
While we wait we can bide our time in service. If we get noticed or not isn’t so important. Whether or where we sit or stand or kneel isn’t so important. If we are in front of the room or in back of the room or serving as a doorkeeper isn’t so important. What is important is that Jesus came and gave his life as a ransom for many—and for one, you. Our place is secure. Jesus poured out his life and invites us through baptism to be poured out with him. Why would we even think of passing up such a life-giving offer?
God, teach us to abide in our baptisms. Let your gracious waters pour into our lives. Pour us out as agents of your grace in the world as we give ourselves to your work, to wash feet, to reach out to the shunned and the cutoff and to enter into your kingdom on your terms—grace, mercy and forgiveness. Amen.