As they passed by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots. And Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.” And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’” (Mark 10:35).
How’s that for humble prayer? “Before I say what I want, I want you to say you’ll do it.” We are good at telling God what we want, but we are not very good at learning what God wants. That kind of learning takes patience, reflection, study, obedience, and all kinds of things that require deep humility. It’s much easier just to go with what we think is best.
Jesus entertains the request: “What do you want me to do for you? And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (10:36-37).
It was an absurd request, but not to them of course. They had it in their heads that Jesus would deliver them from their oppressors and establish an earthly reign. Further, they saw themselves as high-ranking officials in the new regime.
Their perception of reality and their notion of what was good and right prevented them from understanding what Jesus had just told them: “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” (10:33-34).
If you come to God on your terms, expecting him to fit into your worldview and align with the way you think things ought to be, you are starting off on the wrong foot, and that will lead you down the wrong path. You’ll end up saying things that are absurd.
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (10:38). In other words: “My glory is not what you think it is. And the path of glory is certainly not what you think it is.” Like we often do, these brothers had mistaken importance for significance. Importance speaks to the value we derive from things like position, status, and the esteem of others. It is about building our brand: dropping names, getting close to popular people, flaunting knowledge, looking busy, defining spiritual maturity by activity and achievement, exalting public gifts above the others. Significance speaks to the value we add to people and culture. It’s about building others up: remembering their name, drawing near to the fringe, teaching others, being accessible, defining spiritual maturity by love for others, exalting Jesus as the head of the body, and appreciating the contribution of each member.
“The cup” refers to the suffering that Jesus was about to endure. Before he could be exalted to his throne, he had to be hung on a tree. The disciples could not die the mediator’s death, but they would drink from the cup of his suffering. Greatness in the kingdom always involves a cross.
It was a teaching moment for the disciples, and for us: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (10:45)
Humility is not the absence of position and power. It is the use of such things for the good of others. If we can get our minds and affections around the true greatness of Jesus and his cross – and what that means for us – then we can be great in the kingdom of God.
How is God’s glory being made visible in your weakness and brokenness?
Do you want to be first so you can be seen as great, or to be last where true greatness often goes unnoticed?
You may feel like God isn’t speaking to you about various things, but have you let go of what you want so that you might be able to listen with unbiased ears?
Humble my heart before thee, and replenish it with thy choicest gifts. As water rests not on barren hill summits, but flows down to fertilize lowest vales, So make me the lowest of the lowly, that my spiritual riches may exceedingly abound. When I leave duties undone, may condemning thought strip me of pride, deepen in me devotion to thy service, and quicken me to more watchful care. When I am tempted to think highly of myself, grant me to see the wily power of my spiritual enemy; Help me to stand with wary eye on the watch- tower of faith, and to cling with determined grasp to my humble Lord; If I fall let me hide myself in my Redeemer’s righteousness, and when I escape, may I ascribe all deliverance to thy grace. Keep me humble, meek, lowly.