Be Careful What We Ask For
 — Rev. Phil Hobson

October 18, 2015

Isaiah 53:4-12
Mark 10:35-45

Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.

In the Love and Logic classes that Rachel Eye taught a few years back, Mary and I watched a video of an instructor who was talking about going to the county fair. He was there with a friend and his friend’s family. And the young son of his friend fell in love with a toy. It was a cheap, flimsy, plastic helicopter. The son could see nothing else in the tent selling stuff except for this helicopter. So the dad asked him if he had enough money for it. A whole five dollars. Plus tax. And the kid pulled money out of his pocket and counted it and with a big grin on his face, he went to the shelf, grabbed a helicopter, and went to the counter to pay for it.

Well the instructor was incredulous. What? Why not tell your kid this is a cheapo toy that will break the first chance it gets? Why not teach your kid to save his money for good stuff?

Sure enough, five minutes of playing as only a young boy can play, and the helicopter was in a number of pieces, and the boy was crying his little eyes out. Again, the instructor was in disbelief as the dad simply said, “Oh how said.” And hugged the boy. No offers to fix the helicopter. No offers of buying a new one. Nothing but some gentle love.

When our narrator got the father alone, he asked why he did what he did. He responded, “He got to make his own choices with his own money, and he got to feel the consequences, and he knows that no matter what happens to that helicopter, he is loved.” He went on to say, “It is a much easier lesson to learn with a $5 toy rather than with a $5,000 car, or a $50,000 house, or anything bigger.”

So I caution us to be careful what we ask for, with the understanding that if you are like me, I probably need to make my own mistakes before I can learn from someone else’s. I had a science teacher in junior high school who used to tell us that education is the shortcut to someone else’s experience. Not that I am always good at discerning the shortcut.

You can imagine the disciples, hearing such amazing teachings from Jesus, witnessing miracles, and performing them as well. What an awesome scene this must be. Such grace. Such power. Such control over things that always seem to be in control of us.

So James and John, nicknamed “the sons of thunder,” come to Jesus with a request. They want to be the first to put their names in the hat for deputy and assistant. They want to sit on the right and left sides of Jesus. The seats of honor and power and authority. Sure, Jesus has the honor, and power, and authority, but those who sit closest are surely the important ones, right?

Jesus knows them well enough to not immediately agree to give them whatever they ask for. All the kings of the Bible who make such rash promises wind up foolish and in trouble. So, as Dominic Crossan would say, proving Jesus is Irish, he answers a question with a question: “What exactly are you asking for?”

They answer with the seats of honor and authority. “You have no idea what you are asking, do you?” Jesus responds. We can imagine him shaking his head.

Of course they can drink of his cup and be baptized with his baptism, they respond. Because if you are in a job interview, you answer with confidence, right?

To be on Jesus’ right and left side. A few chapters later, we come to understand what that means.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.
The inscription of the charge against him read,
‘The King of the Jews.’
And with him they crucified two bandits,
one on his right and one on his left.
Those who passed by derided him,
shaking their heads and saying,
‘Aha! You who would destroy the temple
and build it in three days,
save yourself, and come down from the cross!’
In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes,
were also mocking him among themselves and saying,
‘He saved others; he cannot save himself.
Let the Messiah, the King of Israel,
come down from the cross now,
so that we may see and believe.’
Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.
(Mark 15:25-32)

Surely this is not what James and John meant by being on the right and left sides of Jesus in his glory. They did not read from Isaiah and think of this vibrant teacher and healer and prophet and messiah as the one described as:

Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.

Their eyes, and perhaps our own, were on glory as we define it: status, power, enough money to never need to worry. (Have you noticed that there is no such thing as enough money to never need to worry?) Their eyes, and perhaps those of our church, are on how well we are regarded by others, how important we seem, how authoritative and popular and well attended we are, and who will meet our needs.

When the other disciples heard that these two had petitioned for the seats of honor, they got mad. Do we think it is because they understood it any better than James and John, or were they just upset that they had not thought of it first?

So Jesus tells all of them what it means to be great, as a Christian, as a person, as a church:

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.
But it is not so among you;
but whoever wishes to become great among you
must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

This is Stewardship Sunday, when we dedicate our pledges and intentions to give for the coming year. Let us pray that the monies and pledges and gifts that are given are used so that we can serve others. May our lives and our gifts be given so that if our name becomes known, it is known for the service offered.

For the Son of Man came not to be served
but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.

Thanks be to God.