Old Story That is Still Relevant
Have you ever wondered what the family and friends of the disciples thought about their loved ones following Jesus, walking away from their fishing nets, tax tables, and other professions to tag along behind an unproven teacher? The Gospels do not provide much information; it wasn’t important when they were written. Perhaps these family members thought it was short-term thing, maybe a week or two. But when the weeks dragged into months and months into years, they must have wondered when their father or son or husband was coming home. They must have talked about how long the men had been gone and why they left in the first place.
Then, as word of the movement around Jesus gathered steam and stories of the wonderful things he was doing got back to them, they may have changed their thinking from concern to excitement. I can imagine the families bragging to their neighbors, “You know, my James is with Jesus. Jesus handpicked him!” It would not have been the first time, or the last, parents rode the coattails of their children to popularity in their own community.
Then one day, the mother of two of them—James and John—couldn’t help herself. A lot of people were talking about Jesus being the long-awaited Messiah, the One of whom the prophets spoke. More than a few believed he would restore Israel and they weren’t bashful about saying so. So, this mother went to Jesus and asked if her boys could be given special positions of leadership in the Nazarene’s movement. She wasn’t wiling for her ambitions to be fulfilled in the normal course of events; she needed to intervene on behalf of her sons.
When the other ten disciples got wind of her request, they were incensed. How dare she try to influence Jesus in choosing his deputies! How dare she lobby for James and John to the neglect of the others!
As usual, Jesus quelled the conflict as quickly as he stilled the storm. He reminded all of them, including the ambitious mother, that serving is the highest calling. He said his way is the opposite of ambition and pride. His way is serving. Success in his movement is not measured by achievement or recognition but by humble service. Then, to make sure all of them got the point, he added: “I came not to be served but to serve.”
The point was crystal clear for the disciples . . . and for the mother of James and John. Her request was not just denied; it was rebuked. She may have felt ashamed, and she should have. The disciples felt chastised, and they should have. The lesson for us is serving is the highest calling. It’s what he expects, the way he measures obedience and faithfulness.
Lesson of this story
I trust you recognize my retelling of the story from Matthew 20 albeit with a little creativity. It is beyond me how anyone can know this story without being convinced of the priority of serving. Placed alongside another story—the one about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet just before he was arrested, tried, and crucified—they comprise a powerful one-two punch of persuasion, don’t you think?
This is why I am on a mission to re-establish the priority of serving, to restore serving to its rightful place among common disciplines of the faith. But isn’t serving already recognized as a priority? Is it really necessary to turn up the light on serving?
I answer with something a colleague in the Inasmuch ministry shared with me. She said her pastor recently preached about the priority of serving. He challenged his congregation to see serving others as a matter of baseline obedience. In response, she approached church leaders to share with the congregation an opportunity to serve that required nothing more than giving a couple of hours in an assembly-line process of packing food that will go to war-torn Ukraine. There was no response either from the church leaders or the congregation.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for churches to resist the idea of making serving others a priority. They would never say that publicly but when provided with a proven way to do just that, they quietly ignore the opportunity. Such has been the experience of the Inasmuch ministry over and over and over again.
The old story is still relevant
Think the story in Matthew 20 about James’ and John’s mother lobbying Jesus on behalf of her sons is just about her and her sons? Not so. It’s about you and me. It’s about the followers of Jesus in the 21st Century. It’s about understanding how Jesus came to change the world . . . and about how he wants us to do the same. Are we?
What do you think?
Do you believe today’s Jesus followers get the priority of serving others? Why do you think today’s churches resist giving serving others priority? Let me know what you think.