I had this goal, a dream, you might say, when I was 14, 15 years old. See, my goal was to save up enough money to buy my own car when I turned 16 and then be financially independent by the time I was 18.
I had a dream. I had a job. I had a plan. I just had no idea what I was talking about! And if I’m going to be honest, I had no idea what I was talking about for at least another 10 years! But that never stopped me from charging forward anyway!
Sometimes, most times, it’s only from the other side that you can see everything you couldn’t see before.
And that is the most charitable interpretation I can offer for James’ and John’s question to Jesus.
In their defense, they were with Jesus when he raised that little girl from the dead. And they were 2 of the 3 disciples that went with Jesus up the mountain at the Transfiguration. And they had seen Jesus heal people and walk on water and feed thousands with nothing but scraps. So given all that, they can sort of be forgiven for asking perhaps the worst timed question in the entire bible.
This is Jesus’ third, last, and most specific description of where this journey is going. It seems as if, by now, the disciples would be starting to get it. But…no. No, they’re not. All the evidence they want to look at points to a triumphant, glorious Jesus heading to Jerusalem to win! To smite their enemies and taking his place as king! The real king! The one they’ve been waiting for!
And Jesus does. It just doesn’t look like what they think it will. Because you can’t know what you can’t know. Their dreams of a triumphant, glorious Jesus are a lot like the dreams of a 14 year old, waiting for the glory of financial independence!
Turns out, it’s not exactly what I thought it was going to be like. And no matter how much my parents tried to clue me in, I just didn’t want to hear that. Because it didn’t line up with my vision of the way I thought things would be.
Jesus told them that greatness means service. That power is for giving away. That God’s glory is revealed in sacrifice and suffering. And the disciples want shiny badges and good feelings and the sweet taste of success. They want to ride to glory on the coattails of Jesus, one on his right, and one on his left. But as Jesus pointed out, they had no idea what they were asking for.
And you know, I wonder, when we say we want to grow, we want more members, we want to be bigger and better! Do we really have any idea what we’re asking for? Are our hopes rooted in some dream of the glorious Jesus who’s off to Jerusalem to win? Or the Jesus who goes to Jerusalem to die? Because even growth involves death. What will be is not what was. And until what was dies, what will be struggles to take root.
So are you sure you want to grow? How much are you ready to let die? Before you proclaim you want the church to be bigger, you better ask yourself how much pain you’re prepared for. Before you ask for a spot at God’s side, you better know where God is going. Because it’s not up.
The way of Jesus leads straight to the bottom. It is the way of weakness and vulnerability and service. It’s letting go of the delusion that we don’t need anyone or anything. The lie that the last one standing wins!
But there is no glory in standing alone. Ask any 97 year old who has outlived everyone they love. The last one standing is not so much glorious as it is lonely.
Before you ask for a spot at God’s side, you better know where God is going.
In the cross, Jesus stands with us, not at our best, but at our worst. He gives up power for the sake of love. Let’s go of control for the sake of relationship.
In the cross, Jesus joins himself to us, that we might know that we never stand alone, not even in death.
And this cross-shaped life is the same life that Jesus calls us to. And it’s not very glamorous. Not at all, actually. It’s messy and complicated and most days, it doesn’t look like much at all. It’s mostly, standing alongside people. Letting their joy be your joy. Sharing burdens to lighten everyone’s load. It’s looking at my neighbor and seeing my sister. My brother. My family. In all its dysfunctional and chaotic beauty.
But that’s the way of Jesus. Not what we want, but what we need. Not what we expected, but so much more.
The way of the cross is the way of life. Just not our life. This is God’s life.