At first reading our reaction may well be one of disappointment even anger at James and John for revealing their own superficial ambitions when Jesus was preparing to face suffering and death. However, there is more than this if we look deeper. 1. It tells the reader something about Mark, the Gospel writer. We can read the same story in the Gospel of Matthew 20 v 20-23, but in his account it is the mother of James and John, Salome, who comes with this request. It is probable that Matthew was shielding his fellow apostles whereas Mark wrote it how it happened! Mark reveals the Twelve, warts and all: they were ordinary people given a life-changing commission by Jesus, just the same as us. 2. So, if we assume that the request was directly from James and John, then it emphasises their ambition. They were two of the chosen inner circle-remember the Transfiguration-and perhaps they were wealthier than the others: we read in Mark 1 v 20 that their father employed hired servants. The big issues, however, were that they perceived the Kingdom of Heaven as somewhere they could realise their ambition to be top dogs and so clearly completely misunderstood the teaching of Jesus, but more than that, His life. Jesus came to be a servant to all and to demonstrate that it is in seeking to come last that we enter the Kingdom. Despite His words about His coming death, they could not rid themselves of this mindset that the Messiah would be an earthly King. It reminds me of my ministry in Callington, Cornwall, where some watched God TV avidly and whatever I said in the pulpit was cross-checked against the speakers on the TV! Jesus, with no doubt a large intake of breath, asked the two if they are able to drink the cup which He is to drink? It was the custom at a royal banquet for the King to hand his cup to his guests- Psalm 75 v 8 and Isaiah 51 v 17. Would they be prepared to experience the cross in order to receive a crown? Now, our minds may still be judging these two, but remember that James was beheaded not long after Jesus died and John faced much persecution including exile to Patmos where he wrote the book of Revelation. Are you prepared to suffer even as they suffered for the sake of the Gospel?
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