And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.”
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:17–28 ESV)
It seems so easy for me to mock the disciples for not getting it: their constant clawing for power, their inability to see that the true nature of a leader is a servant, their incessant need to win at almost any cost. The problem is that in 2,000 years of Christianity, followers of Jesus, including myself, still just don’t get it most days.
I would hope most of us believe this problem is inherent to the human condition, but I would submit that too often it is even reinforced by preaching in many of our churches, not necessarily the content of the sermons, but the very nature of our preaching. Preaching that is elevated in most North American contexts is preaching that is “overly” apologetic in nature. Sermons are written to prove a point, make an argument, or prepare the congregant to defend the faith. But Paul tells us that we preach Christ crucified, which is a stumbling block to those who should know God best and a foolishness to those looking in from the outside (1Corinthians 1:23).
Lent – a season where Christians are called to consider the self-sacrificial nature of Christ, ultimately leading to the cross – stands in stark contrast not only to the attitudes of the disciples but to the argumentative triumphalism that marks my own life far too often, along with so much of Western Christianity. May we take time this Lenten season to not only consider the self-sacrificial nature of Christ’s cross but to also take up our own crosses daily. May we spend less time trying to win arguments and more time trying to win the souls of men and women through self-sacrificing love. May we spend less time demanding our freedom and rights and more time recognizing we are to be slaves and servants.