“What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:35
You have to admire the audacity of the Zebedee brothers in our Gospel today. They know their value and seek to grow it. Pro-active guys, they take charge of their lives. With boldness they approach Jesus and come right to the point, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” They’re ambitious, go-getters and long to be the co-CEO’s of the new Church. And why not, they part of a successful family business – Zebedee and Sons – fishermen with a boat, while Peter and Andrew only had nets. Suspecting that Peter was in the running for the top spot, they pull Jesus aside for a private moment. Then they take charge and full of confidence, assert their leadership and tell Jesus to do whatever they ask.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asks them. They boldly reply, “Give us seats at your right hand and your left when you come into your glory!” They want their best life now. They want power and might. They want it all and who can blame them. I suspect there is a little Zebedee in all of us. Maybe we don’t aim as high as they do for they want to be at Christ’s right and left hand in his glory. But don’t we sometimes wonder, what’s in it for me? What I am I getting out of all this church stuff? Why come to worship and struggle to get the kids to Sunday school every week? Why fill out pledge cards and give offering? Why volunteer? There are times when even the most faithful among us asks, “What’s in it for me?” Especially when the sermon goes on a tad too long or we don’t like any of the hymns. Pastor Amy Richter puts it this way, “What’s in it for me is the question that reveals itself when people come to church as consumers, not worshippers, not servants, looking only for what we can get out of it, not what we might put into it, not what God might get out of it through our efforts to be attentive and present in prayer and praise, for just a little while once a week. What’s in it for me? It’s a human question, one that we all ask at some time or another.”
Now, I have a confession to make. While I am thrilled we are engaged in a Strategic Planning Process and am so pleased with the diligence and hard work of the leaders of the process as well as the number of people participating, I’m concerned that if the question, “What’s in it for me?” becomes the dominate one, the process and the results will fall far short of God’s dreams for this beloved community of faith. “What’s in it for me?” keep us self-centered instead of God-centered.
Nonetheless I have hope because Jesus doesn’t let the Zebedee brothers stay stuck in this question. “You don’t know what you’re asking,” Jesus replies. And indeed, James and John don’t know. Jesus will be crowned, but with thorns, not gold. He will be glorified, but it will look like utter defeat. One will be on his right and one on his left, but they will be thieves hanging on crosses, not the Zebedee brothers. When Jesus tells them “you do not know what you are asking,” it is the ultimate understatement. Focused upon their place, their position, their reward, they completely misunderstand what being a follower of Christ is about. They request glory, he speaks of drinking a cup. They ask for special seats, he talks of baptism. “Are you able?” he asks. “We are,” they boldly reply, not knowing that it will be a cup of suffering and baptism into death.
Centered upon themselves, they fail to hear Jesus. He’s just told them for the third time what was awaiting him in Jerusalem. That instead of being the way to get ahead, Jesus will be betrayed, denied and condemned to death. That instead of being the truth of worldly success, Jesus will be mocked and whipped and nailed to a cross. That instead of enjoying a life of security, Jesus will be killed. James and John are so caught up in themselves and their own hopes and dreams that they fail to hear, not just once, but three times. The other ten disciples aren’t any better than these two sons of entitlement. Nor are we. We’re just aren’t quite as bold. Worried about whether there will be enough glory and power to go around that we miss the depth and breathe of Jesus’ love.
Listen to Jesus’ question again, “What do you want me to do for you?” This is the question Jesus always asks and it is his question for everyone who comes to him. It’s Jesus’ open, vulnerable question that guides his life, that meets us where we are and allows us the freedom to tell him what we really want. This means sometimes Jesus hears requests like Zebedee brothers that sound like a child’s gimmie, gimmie, gimmie. And sometimes, Jesus hears the honest response of those who know that Jesus is our only hope: requests for healing and forgiveness, pleas for a second, third or fourth chance when we come before Jesus empty handed and say, “Lord have mercy and let me know your grace and love.” And certainly at least once in our lives, we ask, “O Lord, be my good shepherd with me through the valley of the shadow of death, comforting me with your rod and staff so that I need not fear evil, but will know your goodness and mercy now and forever.
Trusting this, Jesus transforms our questions, so that we become people who ask not “What’s in it for me?” but instead ask, “Jesus, what do you want me to do for you?” How can I serve you in my life, my family, my church, my community? Go on a mission trip, help with St. Peter’s meals, give generosity, tutor an immigrant? Sing in the choir? Invite a friend to church? Participate in the walk to end gun violence? The answers are as many and varied as we are. Dare to ask the question, “Jesus what do you want me to do for you?” Listen deeply for his reply and trust you’ll be given what you need for a faithful response. Then keep your eyes and heart open for surprises.
(10:45 AM Ashleigh and Stephen, as you carry your son Carson William to the baptismal font, I know that he is already pretty good at telling you what he wants – to be fed, a diaper change, attention, love – all he has to do is let out a little yelp and if you don’t attend to him fast enough, perhaps a scream. I also know that he’s really good at sharing love already! Today you make sacred promises that as he grows to help him ask the life-giving question, “God, what do you want me to do for you?” In seeking answers, Carson will find love and a vocation – just as you both did.)
For our congregation the question is: “God, what do you want us to do for you?” What’s your strategic plan for us? What are your dreams waiting to be transformed into actions so that your love may be generously shared? What work do you want us to do with our hands? What do you seek from us?” And again, we are to listen deeply for God’s response – listen to the restlessness in our souls and the cries of the hungry and homeless, the lost and forgotten, the imprisoned and refugee, the dying and hopeless ones and all who long love and forgiveness. Good Lord, what do you want us to do for you? Amen.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Mark 10:35