35James 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.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Mark 10:35-37
My childhood family of seven used to take long vacations in a pea-green Volkswagon van. With no air conditioning. Our journeys frequently took us from our home in Indiana to Canada, Upstate New York or Iowa to see family.
The seating arrangements often looked like this: Dad behind the wheel, Mom in the passenger seat, the two oldest in the middle and the three younger ones crammed in the backseat. I was the fourth child of five, so you might guess what an unholy terror I was on those family journeys in the back seat.
After a couple of hours and for sanity’s sake, my mom would often crawl into the back seat so that one of us would get our turn for an hour or two up front by Dad’s side. It was fun up there. Dad would invite you to hold maps, his snacks or drink (before cup holders and water bottles). He’d share important details about how much longer and how to read mile markers.
“We want to sit in the front seat with you, Jesus,” John and James ask. Jesus and his disciples are on a different kind of journey. It’s on the road toward Jerusalem that leads to Jesus’s death at the hands of religious and secular authorities. It’s a road where, eventually, all his disciples will abandon him. None of them will be at his right or left. Rather, two unknown criminals die by his side.
In an odd way, I begin to think about Jesus choosing the back seat. He modeled and encouraged servant leadership. He sought out the lost and forgotten and brought them to forefront. He died a death reserved for the most despised and weakest.
Out of John’s and James’ request to sit beside Jesus comes a lesson on servant leadership. It’s one we often overlook but is the central call in discipleship.
Where are the proverbial “backseats” in your places of family, work, school, community and the world?
What does it look like to enter those places and serve Christ faithfully?
If service to others is the model for leadership in Christian community, then what in the life of Christ’s church ought to change?
Christ, lead us in this journey and grant us courage
and humility to lead a servant life like you.