“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it 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.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘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?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’” – Mark 10:35-40
I find this request of James and John to be blunt and bold. Yet the pastor in me understands them, as Jesus also seems to. “You do not know what you are asking,” he responds. “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”
Jesus tries to show the two men that their request is not his to grant. But their persistence is admirable. Perhaps, in the end, what they ask of their humanly divine teacher is off-base. Still, Christ refuses to give up – on James and John and on us.
Christ sees not our poor execution but rather the persistence of our faith.
What happens if and when we get it wrong like James and John? We are human, after all. It is normal to get it wrong every now and again. Jesus does not wipe away his disciples’ desire to draw near to him, even though their means are less than praiseworthy. Instead, he aims to teach them, allowing for a sigh of relief and a moment to pick up the pieces. In other words, Christ is not the “lesson-teacher” but rather is in the midst of the lesson and is the one who draws near to pick up the pieces with us when we get the message wrong. Jesus does not wipe away the other 10 disciples’ anger but dwells in the midst of it. In my opinion as a chaplain, Jesus lies flat on the ground in their anger rather than ignoring the humanity of the response. In his own humanity, Christ recognizes the eagerness of his disciples and shares with them his purpose – again. What he shares with them is that greatness is honed less through work and more through servitude and humility: through getting it wrong, through the scraped knees, picking yourself up and listening for the still, small voice of God.
You see, failure – if we let it – is never failure but rather growth in disguise. Because of Christ, we live each and every time as changed people in the New Creation, having gotten it wrong in many different manifestations, permutations, shapes and forms. Christ, in his divine patience, sees not our poor execution but rather the persistence of our faith.
May we feel the grace and closeness of God the Creator, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit moving in and through our daily lives, meeting each and every one of us, just where we are, the Divine’s beloved.