Once upon a time, a man promised his children who were in primary school that he would buy a bicycle for any of them that would take the first position in their respective classes. The children were excited and they worked had to get at the prize. By the end of the term, they brought their results home. The eldest child and also the only son, who happened to be in a different primary school from others came home with a result indicating a first position!
The result was amazing and at the same time very incredible. This was because the boy in question never came close to the 20th position in the class of 30 children. His father looked at the result closely to see if it bore his name and it was really his name and the position was “1st position”. The man was very glad but doubtful at the same time. He didn’t want to fail in his promise but at the same time he wanted to be sure that his son really came first in the class. He decided to take the boy to the shop to buy a bicycle for him but silently decided to stop at his son’s teacher’s house to ascertain the credibility of the result.
On reaching the teacher’s house, they met him while he was preparing to embark on a journey. The boy’s father was about to say something when the teacher started scolding the little boy for his poor performance of 21st out of 30. The man was shocked! He brought out the result he was holding and handed it over to the teacher. The teacher was shocked too and after a careful examination he discovered that the little boy “doctored” his result by carefully removing the “2” and leaving 1st. What he however failed to do was to change the teacher’s remark which his father did not notice because of his level of literacy and which read “very weak pass work hard to improve!”
The desire to be great seems to be a very central factor in human life. A careful reading of the world history will show that it has being all about the struggle for power, influence, position, supremacy and greatness. From the First World War to the uprising in various nations of the world, the story is the same; the struggle to be and remain in power. Have you ever wondered why some people, tribes and nations of the world attach “Great” to their names? The likes of Alexander the Great, Great Britain, Great Roman Empire, Great Wall of China, etc. The simple answer is that they intend to create standards; an effort to establish inequality, the desire to create superiority as opposed to inferiority. This seems to run throughout the whole gamut of human life, among plants some are more outstanding than others in size, beauty and utility; among animals there is a continuous quest for superiority, and among human beings the discussion continues. Even in the spiritual realm, there are also comparative and superlative attributes for instance God is the Greatest.
The desire to be great starts with us as little children when we engage ourselves in little competitions to know who gets the first position. It could be in race, recitations, dancing and a lot more. In fact, you can only reckon any of your playmates to be greater than you after series of competitions. We grow with this disposition as we mature. Sometimes we focus on competing with others and end up wasting our lives and losing our God-given destiny.
It may not be too surprising for us to discover that the two famous brothers, James and John came to Jesus Christ to make a request. They actually came to our Lord to lobby for positions at his right hand and his left hand in his GLORY. This means that they were sure of a glorious moment. There is a clear indication here that the apostles still didn’t fully understand the identity and mission of Jesus Christ. They were still assuming him to be a political messiah; a worldly king. We remember that this contention for first position and greatness began in Mark (9:33-37) when they were arguing among themselves as to who was the greatest. Jesus did settle the situation for them, but the re-occurrence of this ultimate search for foremost positions by James and John showed that the quest for greatness did not end after our Lord’s instructions.
The two brothers were ambitious and one could admire them for that. But in their quest they were focused on the glory and not the path that would lead to the glory. It was on account of this oversight that our Lord asked them if they will be able to drink the cup he would drink, namely suffering. Their ambition to get to the glorious realm was so strong that they did not express any fear of drinking the cup. They were sure that the cup will come and pass (and may not be as painful as that) but the glory will be established thereafter.
The request that James and John made was a very outstanding and specific one: to sit at the right hand and the left hand of our Lord Jesus Christ in his glory. From their request we can see that they intended to lead the parade. From their request they wanted to make the ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ a family affair of the “Zebedees” From their request we deduce selfishness and exclusion. I wonder the position they intended for Mary the Mother of the Lord.
The two brothers were really very ambitious like most people in our contemporary human society where people get into positions based on who-knows-who syndrome. The two brothers wanted to act fast before the rest would out-do them. It may be wrong to assume that they were the only people among the apostles that desired to take important positions in the would-be kingdom of Jesus Christ. Rather they were bold enough to declare their intentions.
The answer our Lord Jesus Christ gave to the two brothers showed that there are ideal steps to greatness. In our technology driven human society, computers and other devices give us shortcuts as options in some operating systems. Consequently most of us have pushed that idea of shortcut to other spheres of life. Today people want to get rich without working for it. People want to rise to great heights without the drudgery of climbing a ladder, people want to get into the Promised Land without passing through the desert, and people want to wear the crown without carrying the cross. Mahatma Gandhi summarized these dispositions in his seven deadly sins of the modern world:
- Wealth without Work.
- Pleasure without Conscience.
- Science without Humanity.
- Knowledge without Character.
- Politics without Principle.
- Commerce without Morality.
- Religion without Sacrifice.
It is good to be ambitious but only if our ambition is on eternal values (Matt.6:33; 11:12). Furthermore our ambition must go through some defined step. Human life itself is a product of some defined biological and physiological process. Before conception there is fertilization and before birth there is conception. Before walking, a child must learn how to stand. The same thing is applicable to greatness. One must necessarily pass through some corridors which may not really be all sweet and rosy.
From the Gospel Reading, James and John intended to place themselves where their egos suggested to them. It happens that often we tend to do the things that are reserved for God alone; we tend to take up God’s tasks. God is the person who can appoint us to places where He has divinely willed for us. When in Jeremiah (29: 11) we are told that “God has a plan for us” it means that He has designed a position for us where His plans for us will be realized. Often we can only reach the place God has appointed for us through series of disappointments that would lead us to the appointments.
The First Reading from Isaiah (53:10-11) tells us that it is the will of God that his servant be bruised; experience grief and suffering as the steps that will lead to the salvation of all. If you examine the bible very well, you will discover that God’s appointment to positions of greatness would always follow some steps that may not really appear palatable. Abraham’s rise to the status of father of a great nation took great route spanning up to twenty-five years (Gen.12:2). Joseph’s appointment to greatness came after series of disappointments that started with his brothers (Gen. 37:18).The Promised Land was realized after a long walk of forty years in the desert (Joshua 5:6). After being anointed king, David had to pass through a period of fighting with Goliath and out-doing Saul before he could sit on the throne (1 Sam. 17:45; 19:10). To redeem us our Lord Jesus had to follow the rigorous steps of passion and death.
Wherever you will be in life has been designed by God. If you are connected with him in faith and obedience you will rise to your position. It does not really matter how long it takes you or how tough the road is (the steps to greatness); the point is that you will get there. Many people are not successful in life because they gave themselves positions that God never intended for them. Some people are in the wrong places in life and if you are in the wrong place it will all be wrong for you. To get to the right place, follow God, it may not be an easy road but you will get to your rightful place after all.
I wish you a blessed Sunday and happy week ahead.