Let’s just get it out there, the Sons of Zebedee look like jerks in our scripture from Mark. If you don’t think so, then explain why Luke who used nearly all of Mark’s gospel word for word when he wrote his own gospel of Jesus, conveniently left this story out. Explain why Matthew, who also copied much of Mark, added another character when he told this story. The Sons of Zebedee’s mother asked Jesus for the best seats in the coming Kingdom of God for her boys, not James and John. Why did Matthew and Luke do this? Because they didn’t want to make two of the most important disciples of Jesus look like jerks.
Paige and I both youngest, grew up with age being the determining factor on where you sat in the car. This meant when there was only one adult, our brother or sister got to sit up front. When we became parents, we didn’t let that injustice continue. Whoever called “Shotgun” could get the front seat. We were fair, but not crazy. “Shotgun!” they would shout as we headed to the parking lot. Often there would be fights over who said it first and we would “settle” it by making all three sit in the back. We also had to make rules for “Shotgun!”. One of those rules was that you couldn’t shout “Shotgun” before the car was in sight. If they did, we would say jerk move and we wouldn’t let them sit in the front that trip at all. This is what it seems to me James and John did. They called shotgun on the best seat in the coming Kingdom of God, before Jerusalem is even in sight. If the Sons of Zebedee were my children, I would rule jerk move and make them sit in the back.
Mind you they are close to Jerusalem. This all takes place just days before they arrive. Their arrival will be that kingly entrance we celebrate on Palm Sunday. In Mark, they have been travelling towards Jerusalem pretty much the entire book. As they have been traveling they have been building up a wake of people behind them. First century Israel might be a small pond, but Jesus had become a big fish. All of them are convinced that he is the Messiah predicted in scripture. The one God would send to be a good and powerful king over Israel like David, their greatest king. They didn’t know how exactly, but they were sure that when Jesus somehow over the objections of King Herod and Pontius Pilate.
Mind you Jesus had tried to dissuade the disciples of this. He admitted he might be the Messiah, but not the sort of Messiah they were expecting. For those of us who know how the story ends, the crown that Herod and Pilate give Jesus was a crown of thorns. Those honored to be at the right and the left of Jesus were two anonymous thieves hanging like Jesus from a cross. Guys, you really don’t want the front seat.
Yes, they were sure they did, and not just James and John, but all the disciples. This is why verse 41 tells us they were so mad at the Sons of Zebedee. They wanted the best seat because the human condition is to seek honor and glory. And we always seem to measure honor by how it positions us in front of others. Why is the front seat so popular with kids? Because while you can see clearly, all your snotty nosed brother can see is your back. When they put your nameplate on that beautifully, paneled office suite, the one all the other workers have to stare at from their pathetic cubicles, everyone knows what it means. I made it and you didn’t. Have you ever seen a donor chart on the wall of a hospital. I saw one that was a tree with smaller leaves on the bottom that got a lot bigger at the top. You don’t have to be a brain surgeon at that hospital to figure out which leaf gave the most money. Why does that leaf/tree chart even exist? Because those leaves want people to know the good thing they did. Why make the leaves different sizes? The big top leaf on that tree is shouting to all the other smaller leaves, I won. Even generous people can be a little bit of a jerk.
Sons of Zebedee are jerks that look like us. Jesus tells James and John that they will share his baptism. Just like we share his baptism. Through baptism, Jesus calls all us jerks into the church. But I like to hope that the waters of baptism have a hand at scrubbing the jerk out of us. Baptism must have scrubbed some of the jerk out of James. The Book of Acts tells us that he was the first disciple martyred. Baptism must have scrubbed some of the jerk out of John. Tradition tells us he was the most loving of the disciples.
At Messiah, there is no front seat or paneled office, honor or glory for our leaders. There is no special bathroom or parking space set aside for them. Most don’t even think about the hard work that leaders put in so that ministry happens. Consider that the hours of practice our choirs and praise band have to do before a service have to be prepared for with even more hours of work by the director before a single, beautiful volunteer shows up. Our leaders get no perks and admittedly, sometimes I wish there were just a few. I have wanted to yell “Shotgun” at a fellowship meal. I am just hoping the waters of baptism scrub the jerk out of me too.
At Messiah, we don’t measure importance by our position in front of someone else. There is no leaf chart for our fundraising campaigns. No top, huge leaf making themselves known to everyone else. We are trying to raise $175,000 to do some repairs to the church. We have asked every family or individual to consider giving $1000 towards this by June, of next summer. Some will shrug and let others sacrifice this time. They gave at the last campaign. Many will not be able to do this. $1000 is a lot of money in a world of low wages or fixed incomes and high prices. I have been in more than a few conversations with faithful people who have told me they can’t give a $1000, but they will give something. Alleluia. Some, can give a lot more than a $1000. I hope they do because our building needs our love. We are all asked to be generous according to our own financial ability and blessings. However, all the leaves will end up being the same size on tree.
Because whether you give $10,000 or $10 or $0, we all get the front seat. We all get to dance forward next Sunday bringing our commitments to shouts of Alleluia, regardless of how many zeros we have printed out on those commitment cards. Even if we are not as generous as we could have been, the very presence of God will still meet us in the wine and bread. Their will be a heaping helping of lasagne afterward for those who stretched themselves in order to love our building and those who said I give enough already. Why? Because in the church there is no backseat. Everyone gets to sit up front, where like James and John, we hope in the end that baptism will have scrubbed the jerk right out of all of us.