Scripture: Mark 10:35-45
Power and Influence, this sounds like a headline out of every newspaper across the nation. It actually sounds like the topic of every chapter in every history book. Of course I am exaggerating, but the quest for power and influence is often the topic of the writers of history. It is what makes news. We know about the Jewish wars in the first century because of the quest for power and influence. The results of this quest changed the course of history. Did you know that the fact that our nation mainly speaks English instead of a form of Latin or Gaelic, could trace its roots to this war. This quest for power is really what the entire New Testament is about. We have the nation set apart to be a light among nations against a world dominating empire. It is a battle that has been fought as long as history has been recorded.
Of course like every quest for power and influence there are several different aspects to it. Many who live in the United States would be surprised that the majority of colonists did not desire the revolution. To be honest it was a small minority that actually set this quest for power into play. And most people living in the colonies were actually very pleased with their lifestyle, to be honest the in comparison to most people in the British empire the Americans were rather wealthy. Most did not want independence but influence. You see even in our own history there is a difference in the quest, or the understanding of the term kingdom, is it land or independence; or is it influence or representation within the present nation.
In the ancient Jewish culture of the first century there were several camps, some wanted independence while others just wanted to insure influence in the areas important to them. Power and influence, independence and representation this is usually where the lines of the battle are drawn. In the minds of the Disciples of Christ they were somewhere between these extremes. At the beginning of this passage we see an interaction between Jesus and a couple of very bold passionate members of this group. James and John are called the sons of thunder; this is one of the reasons why. They were right in the middle of an argument, often times hedging their cards to be on the winning side. Here they ask a question that upsets the other ten men in the following. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
Bold, is the term I use to describe these two men. We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. This is one of the boldest of all questions to ask of anyone. Have you been asked one of these questions? To most of us this question is attached to something we do not particularly want to agree to. Do you trust me, is a similar question. Usually the answer to this question is, “I did, but now I’m beginning to reconsider it.” You probably understand the position that these two guys put Jesus in. They were making a demand of Jesus. Of course we ourselves would never be like these two saintly sinners, because we have learned from their mistakes.
“What is it you want me to do for you?” This is really the only response Jesus could give in the context of his ministry. Jesus always seems to be open to the needs and requests around him. It empowers the person posing the question. They have the attention of their closest friend and whom they believe is the messiah. They ask that Jesus grant them the premier seats in a physical kingdom. This speaks of what they believe is going on in the current quest for power and influence. They envisioned and imagined that this man Jesus was going to bring into existence a separate and independent nation, that he would be the king. They wanted power and influence over people; they wanted control, honor, wealth, and success. In their minds everything they were doing going around the territory of Palestine gathering support was for a military conquest, and they wanted to be the second in command, the chiefs of staff or aides de camp.
Jesus looks at them and states something seemingly simple. “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” These men have lived with Jesus for a couple of years now. In their mind they have been living this. They were most likely disciples of John the Baptist before they began following Jesus, they witnessed when John dunked Jesus under the waters of the Jordan. They too were probably dunked beneath the waters that separated the land of the wilderness and the land of promise. They left their careers, and families to follow this man saturating every waking moment to his ministry and teachings. They ate what he ate, walked where he walked. They eagerly said yes we would do this.
They truly did not know what they were asking. Most of us do not fully understand either. The first statement or question Jesus presents is to drink the cup that He drinks. For many of us when Jesus says these words our minds immediately get transported to a room in Jerusalem, where the followers of Jesus are sharing a meal celebrating the Passover. But that meal has not yet been shared. The baptism that most of us imagine is the one that occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, I mentioned it already. So we have one item that is yet to occur and one that is already past. Jesus does not talk about these as past or future, but as present. The drink I drink, the baptism that I am baptized with. I drink. I am baptized with. Both are currently happening. He is actively drinking and being saturated with whatever He is talking about.
If these are things that are current in the life of Jesus it brings a totally different meaning to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism than what many of us imagine. But Jesus does not give them much time to really consider what the deeper meanings of these are. He goes on to tell James and John that they will experience these things, but position and power are not things that Jesus can grant. By this time the others have heard enough of the conversation and are beginning to express their own opinions. If this is a position available for the taking it is only natural to want to know if they were qualified. They were submitting their resumes to be vetted, but Jesus then begins to teach about leadership.
He says, “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 to all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This teaching goes deep into the history of Israel. They began as a one man being called out to become a light to nations, but soon they became slaves, then they were brought into the land. After some time they wanted a king because everyone else had kings, eventually they did not like their king so some of the tribes broke away dividing the kingdom. Then the kingdoms grew further apart from each other and further away from their God. Eventually they were consumed or conquered by other nations. After a while they return to their home but they are not the same, they have a short time where they are again an independent nation but soon they are again subject to others.
They have a history of influence, power, slavery, wandering, power, influence, and again as subjects to others. The cycle continues but one thing remains through it all, God. Through the history of Israel God was unchanging, but the attitudes of the people did. As they drew closer to God they gained power and influence but only through and after suffering. Abraham the father of the nation, left his home to wander, he suffered because of this. He left all he knew for something that was unsure and risky. For a century he lived the life of a nomad with the promise that he would be the father of a great nation only to add years but no children. He did eventually have a son Isaac, and Isaac had two sons, and one of those sons, Jacob, had twelve sons. Then these twelve sons eventually moved to Egypt where they lived as guest and eventually lost favor and were made into servants. Again suffering. They did gain influence and power even through the suffering. It is a cycle of suffering and influence. But in it all there is one message. The Lord is their God and they are His people.
There is a difference in other nations. Who are people we remember in history? Genghis Kahn, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Ivan the Terrible, Nero, Washington, and Lincoln; nearly every great leader in history is seen as both a liberator to some and possibly a tyrant to others. They were military and political leaders. On one side of the story people loved them on the other people hated them. Some we remember fondly, while others we wish history would forget. Power and influence in the world is often gained through force or manipulation. Sure people that loved them put some into power, others took that power. Where the people of God received their power and influence was not through military campaign or politics. Israel was the strongest and had the most influence when they were out of power. I know it sounds crazy. They had the ears of emperors when they lived in slavery. Daniel was one of the most influential people in the world, yet he was basically a slave living in exile under the rule of Babylon and Persia.
This brings us back to the drink and the baptism. These are terms of suffering; they allude to sacrifices not in campaign. The drink offering is an offering of wine, perfectly good wine just dumped out on the altar. Paul said that his life was a drink offering poured out before God, Jesus at the last supper said that the wine was his blood shed for the world. It is about losing yourself, losing everything that might possibly buy influence over people. Dumping yourself out, and being saturated in something else.
Israel was influential when they lived in communion with God. When they were walking with God, being lead by God, not worrying about them as a nation but fully focused on God. When they were pouring their own lives out as a nation not out of their own benefit but for others. Daniel was powerful when he focused on God and served where he was. Abraham was powerful when he followed God and poured his life into the relationships he built along the way. We will have influence and power over the world around us not by trying to legislate morality or standing for our rights but if we live following God and pouring all that we have into the people around us, suffering for them. That is the true drink and baptism symbolized in the sacraments practiced throughout Christianity. As Friends we do not practice the ceremony for a reason, we recognize that all the ceremonies in the world would not matter if we were not living the reality behind it.
James and John did suffer in life. They live a life fully saturated in the life with God. Every moment of their lives was lived 100% for God after they realized what their teacher and Lord was saying. Saturated and filled. Devoted not to their ambitions but to serve those around them. For James this lead to death, for John exile, both lost everything yet they gained even more, they lost their lives but God gave them a new life. They suffered they poured their lives out before God and man. They did not seek honor or wealth, when they realized what the truth behind the word of their Lord meant they embraced it, and encouraged others to do the same.
What is it we desire? What are we living our lives for? Are we boldly going to God through Christ asking him to give us whatever we ask or are we willing to take up the drink and baptism he drinks and is baptized with? We ask for things but we do not ask correctly, we do not ask in the mind of God yet we wonder why things are not going the way we want. It is not about us, it is about God and the people that He love, the people that He sent His son to live with and for, to sacrifice His life for and to give eternal hope to when He rose from the grave. God wants us to live saturated and fully for Him, pouring out our lives so that those around us will give praise and honor to Him. I began today speaking of power and influence and how most colonist in America did not seek independence but influence in their own government. What do we live for? Power will morph into tyranny, unless we willingly submit to God and live lives devoted to building relationships and pour love into others. As we enter this time of open worship let us consider if we are truly willing to drink the drink of Christ or to be baptized in His baptism.