21 October 2012

Mark 10:35-45

"… whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." (vv. 43, 44)


Today's passage follows on from teaching which Jesus had just given to his disciples about how he will be treated when they all go to Jerusalem - and how he will be killed, but rise again after three days (Mark 10:32-34).

It seems extraordinary that at that moment James and John were more concerned about their own position and status, rather than what Jesus had just said. The highest place of honour was at the seat on the right of a ruler or host at dinner, and the next highest place was on the left. The two disciples were unfortunate representatives of the human behaviour which seeks status and recognition.


Jesus responded to the request with questions which lead to an understanding of the real cost of discipleship. For the first readers of Mark's Gospel, this would have resonated with much of what Christians were experiencing at that time - real hardship and persecution.

The other disciples were understandably angry with James and John. Whether that was because they too wanted places of honour, or because they realised how inappropriate the two disciples' request was, we do not know. But it enabled Jesus to teach the importance of servant ministry. A well-known passage in the Old Testament speaks of the suffering servant (Isaiah 53) and Christians see that as laying the foundation of Jesus' life and ministry. Jesus himself behaved like a servant, and a servant who suffered for others.

The real message that greatness lies in serving other people is central to understanding how to be a follower of Jesus. This may have been included in Mark's Gospel as a warning to the early Church, and possibly as a warning to church leaders whose attitudes were not unlike those of James and John.

To Ponder

  • How easy do you find it to serve other people? And how do you cope with people who seek status and recognition?
  • Can you think of ways in which you may suffer if you want to follow Jesus?

Bible notes author

The Revd Stephen Burgess

Revd Stephen Burgess is chair of the York & Hull District of the Methodist Church. He initially trained as a chemist and after some years in industry and teaching served in two school chaplaincy appointments before becoming superintendent of the Cambridge Circuit and then moving to Yorkshire.