James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Mark 10.35
And so begins one of the the more oft quoted passages in Mark’s Gospel. “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 a powerful statement for all of us who are in positions of trust and authority, not only in the Church, but also in the secular world. I remember when I was in the non-profit world, I would see “servant-leadership” trainings that seemed to try to translate this mentality of leading by serving into the secular vernacular.
However, the more I reflect on this passage, the more I think that it is impossible to servant-lead without hearing what Jesus says a bit earlier in the passage. After James and John, the “Sons of Thunder,” come to Jesus and ask them to make them the second greatest in the coming Kingdom, Jesus says, “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?” Are we able? Do we even consider this question when we answer the call to follow Jesus on the Way?
What is the baptism with which we are to be baptized? What is the cup that we must drink to follow Jesus on the Way? In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus asks the young man to follow the interpersonal commandments and to sell all he had. He asks the young man to give up his ego and take an equal place in the community. This week, Jesus reminds us that, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Can we be baptized with this baptism? Can we drink this cup? Can we too prioritize service over being served? Can we give our life as the price of liberation for others?
Shane Claibourne, a Christian author, leader in the new monasticism movement, and anti-death penalty activist, says, “Christianity is at its best when its is peculiar, marginalized, and suffering, and it is at its worst when it is popular, credible, triumphal, and powerful.” We’re at a moment in time where the Church and Christianity is transitioning from popular to marginalized and it feels existentially threatening. And this moment will cause some things we have known and loved about our religion to die. But that’s ok. Things and institutions change, and sometimes they die. If we drink the cup, we will change. If we are baptized in Jesus’ baptism we will die. But God’s promises are stronger than change. God’s promise of life abundant is stronger than death, only if we trust and let God be God.
I pray that we allow ourselves to be baptized and to drink the cup. I pray we can allow ourselves to lay down our desire for greatness and let go our expectations. I pray we give our whole selves, individually and communally, to following Jesus on the Way and let God’s promise of new and abundant life lead us.