At The Right Hand of God
How should we think about James and John, the sons of Zebedee? How should we think about the day they went to Jesus and said to him: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
And when Jesus answered, “What is it you want me to do for you?”
They replied: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
How should we think about these two who were so forward that they not only wanted to stand out from the crowd, they also wanted to stand ahead of the other disciples and have the highest positions of power and privilege that they believed Jesus could grant them?
Anger and resentment was the reaction from the other ten disciples towards James and John.
But what are our reactions, our thoughts, and our feelings towards these two audacious characters?
My belief is that we should regard James and John as if they were us. They really do sound very much like us. Therefore, we should give close attention to what Jesus had to say to them and to the other disciples since he is also speaking to you and me.
Now let me qualify this.
Most of us never dream about actually sitting at the right hand of God and receiving all the glory and honour that position holds.
Many of us when we get into a really good political discussion with our friends try to solve in one manner or another all the problems of our country. There’s lots of talk and yet no one really wants to be in the government, let alone to be prime minister no matter how much we may dream about what we could do if we were in that position.
So for me to say that we should regard James and John as if they were us may seem to you to be a bit much, it may seem to you to be something that you can’t relate to:
something that only applies to those few people who are ruthless with ambition,
those few people who really do want, as Jesus states about the gentiles, to Lord it over others,
those few arrogant ones who think that they are better, or that they know more, than everyone else.
But we are all still like James and John. We have their nature in us.
How many of you, in your younger years, worked at odd jobs like: mowing lawns, waiting tables, stacking shelves at the Big W, cleaning homes, delivering pizza, baby sitting and so on?
Many of us have…
I think that it’s safe to say that we’ve usually had these jobs because they were a means to an end. We needed the money so we could go to school, or to have pocket money or because we needed to survive for a while until something else came along.
But we probably didn’t aspire to these jobs as a life long profession nor would we be delighted if one of our children said that she wanted to be a waitress when she grew up, or that he wanted to pick up garbage in public parks all his life.
We know that these jobs are important because they need to be done, but we probably don’t think people should do them as a career. We probably think that they are best reserved for the very young, or for those who have no education and little hope of advancing their station in life.
We want better things for ourselves and our children, better than babysitting and picking up garbage or waiting on tables. We want to be paid well and we want our kids to earn a “decent” living. We want them to do something worthwhile with their life. We want others to respect them in all that they do. For example, maybe they could become doctors, or lawyers, or accountants or a sports star, or run the family farm, or have their own IT business, or aspire to be an electrician.
And they are great goals to achieve for my kids, and I, like many parents, push my kids towards those goals, I push them to get ahead to be someone special. As my father and mother did before me, so I do intern.
I ask them when they seem to be slacking off at school or when they are grumbling about the chores they have to perform, “Do you want to work at MacDonald’s for the rest of your life? Do you want to fill pot-holes in roads for a living?”
But you know when I go to a restaurant, I want polite and attentive service. And in the days I needed a babysitter for my kids I wanted someone who really cared for my kids and knew how to keep an eye on them and how to care for them when they were getting into trouble.
If I hire someone to mow my lawn, I want it done right. And I expect my garbage to be picked up promptly and the bin back in its correct place. I expect good roads and clean parks in my neighbourhood.
I want to be served, and to be served well. I want to be respected, and listened to, and to have my opinions valued, and I believe, so do we all.
These wants aren’t entirely wrong. But they can easily go very wrong and lead one first to insensitivity, to rudeness, to arrogance, and finally to tyranny.
And so, when I really think about it, I am like James and John. All of us have inside a part of James and John, and by that nature would rather be served than to serve.
I think that even the most righteous among us occasionally dreams of winning the lottery and of living in ease the rest of our days rather than of the satisfaction of serving others and serving them well.
And so today, in the name of God, I deliver you a reminder. A reminder about Jesus and what he said and did.
Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant. And whoever wishes to first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Jesus could not tell James or John who would end up sitting at his left or his right hand. As he said to them, it was not even something that he could grant. But, Jesus himself sits at the right hand of God.
He sits there because he gave himself to us wholly and completely, because he served God and served us all with all of his heart, soul and body.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph just a few days
before his death, He rode on a humble ass, not on a mighty stallion; and he stayed in the humble home of a friend, not in some palacious house with multiple bathrooms, and under main roof parking for various chariots.
Look at Jesus, he gave food to the hungry and visited the sick, and performed many miracles to help people in need. Jesus didn’t just wash people’s souls clean of sin, he knelt beside them and washed their feet clean of dust and dirt. And not once did he complain that no one appreciated him, nor did he open his mouth when he was reviled and persecuted, because he was a friend of sinners.
At one time, he fled from the crowds that wanted to make him a king where they could continuously ask of him to better their life and satisfy all their dreams. They too, were like James and John wanting to be kings and have Jesus serve them. But that is not the way of Jesus nor is it the way he has planned for us.
Today, in our gospel story we have been given a reminder of who is at the right hand of God and of some of the reasons for why Jesus is there. This reminder is for us, so that when we speak to our children, and when we consider what is worth while and what is worthy of respect, let us then, first consider Jesus and his way, and be encouraged to know that he has gone before us and leads us on the path to the side of God. Jesus has shown us that it is better to give than to receive, better to serve than to be served, this is the way to true happiness, joy and peace in our life. And, is it not those very blessings we want for ourselves and for our children?
Finally, we are also called this day to remember James and John, and how we ourselves are like them. They did listen to Jesus and continued to be counted among the chosen ones. As Jesus served, so did James and John the sons of Zebedee.
Jesus’ greatest act of service was to give his life for all of us, for you. As a result, we have a place in heaven, in God’s kingdom whether to the right or to the left of him, God will embrace us like a loving parent because of what Jesus did. And there’s more, our true treasure of glory and honour awaits us when we continue to follow Jesus, the Servant Exemplar. Amen.