Job 38:1-7 (34-41); Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
I feel for Job this week.
We are on chapter 38 of the book of Job. Job has suffered much. In last week’s readings, he finally took God to task and cried that God refused to hear his complaint and was silent in the face of his suffering. This week God replies. Silent no more, God lets Job have it in a breathless “who do you think you are?” diatribe. These verses have an “and another thing, Job” quality to them. Just when you think God is finished taking Job to task, God adds another piece of evidence in the case against Job’s audacity: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Well have they?!”
God will go on for another entire chapter before Job responds. Even then, Job gets three verses before God gets going again for another chapter and a half. Clearly, if word count is any indication, Job doesn’t stand a chance in a debate with the Most High God. Neither, of course, do we. Neither, of course, does anyone. That’s the point, right? All that we think we know, all our sure complaints, our certain righteousness, our well thought through plans and our confidence in God’s will come to nothing in the face of God’s power, majesty, wisdom, goodness and grandeur. This is a text that tells us loud and clear that we are creatures and God is creator and we’d do well not to forget this rock-bottom truth.
We so often do not know what we are asking for when we approach God. We think we know exactly what is best, what we need most, what God ought to do for and with us — forgetting that our ways our not God’s ways, our thoughts not God’s thoughts. James and John say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us what we ask of you.” Jesus honors their desire and asks in return, “What is it that you want me to do for you?” In one of the most honest confessions in Scripture, they tell Jesus exactly what they want: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” In other words, James and John want status, power, proximity to a glory that will make them glorious, too. Let’s give them points for transparency, I guess. Jesus, rather than going all: “Who do you think you are?” and: “Where were you when?” is utterly honest right back: “You have no idea what you are asking for, James and John. Are you able to drink of the cup I will drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”
Then, in one of the most hubris-laden moments in Scripture, James and John say, “We are able.” The mind-blowing thing about this statement is that it comes right after Jesus has told them for the third time that he will suffer and die before being raised on the third day. Jesus says, “Well then, you will drink from that cup and be baptized with that baptism, but it isn’t up to me who sits on my left or on my right.” At this point, the other disciples tune in and get mad. “Why do James and John get special status? What about us?” Once again, we human beings speak out of ignorance or pride or naivete. Once again, Jesus must set us straight.
We are asking the wrong questions. Wanting the wrong things. Capitulating to the wrong values. Focused on the wrong priorities. Like God to Job, Jesus must confront the disciples, call them on their flawed thinking and remind them of who God is and who they are in relationship to God and one another. If followers of Jesus seek to be great, then they must serve. Once again, we are told those who want to be first must be last. This message, this truth, this reality is not one James and John wanted to hear, nor did the other 10, nor do disciples through the ages, nor do we. We want Jesus to do for us what we ask of him — and when was the last time you asked Jesus to make you last of all? When was the last time you asked Jesus to make you a servant? When was the last time you heard a prayer in worship that said something like: “God, take away our status and our power, make us the least and the last.” Can you imagine something like that as a tagline for the next stewardship campaign?
Sometimes I think about what might happen if we printed mission statements like that on our bulletins. Maybe, “First Presbyterian Church: Striving to be last.” We are “first” church of wherever, after all. How about “Least Presbyterian Church”? We talk about servant leadership, but do we talk about being a servant? We often seek to serve, but rarely seek to be a servant.
We want Jesus to do for us what we ask, and rarely do we ask to be last. Rarely do we rejoice in being the least. Often, we want to tell God what to do or take God to task without recognizing that we have no idea what we are truly asking. Thankfully, God knows this about us and God loves us anyway. God, in fact, deals gently with us, through Jesus Christ.
When we do not know what we need or what we are asking God to do for us, when we don’t know our proper place or recognize God’s will, when we can’t see past ourselves or our circumstances, when we think we know what is best but fail to seek what God says is better, Jesus intercedes for us. In one of the most pastoral sentences in Scripture we are told, “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself was subject to weakness.” We have a great High Priest who meets us in our ignorance and asks us with sincerity, “What is it that you want me to do for you?” And then does for us so much more than we can ever ask or imagine.
James and John want glory. Jesus offers salvation. James and John want status. Jesus offers relationship. James and John want power. Jesus offers purpose. James and John want greatness. Jesus offers life. James and John want recognition. Jesus offers grace. James and John want vindication. Jesus offers mercy. James and John, like gentiles then and now, want to lord it over others. Jesus offers them, and us, the privilege of serving side by side, with him. We want to be first, but Jesus reminds us that we are closest to him when we are among the least and last and lost.
Thanks be to God, no matter what we ask, we have a great High Priest who intercedes for us, and through his death and resurrection, has already given us all we could ever need.
- How do you feel when you read these verses from Job? Is it fair that God takes Job to task given all that Job has endured?
- What have you asked of Jesus? Did you receive it?
- What do we make of the juxtaposition of James’ and John’s request with Jesus’ admonishment elsewhere “to ask and receive”?
- What would it look like for churches or individual Christians to be “last” or “least” or “servants of all”?
- Who do you relate to in this story from Mark? Do you see yourself as James or John? The other 10? When have you gotten angry that someone else had gotten something you thought they didn’t deserve or that you may have wanted?
- When you pray, do you consider the promise that Christ intercedes for you? Prays for us? As you pray this week, be aware of this truth and note what difference it makes in your praying.
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