Isaiah 53:4-12; Mark 10:35-45
James 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Good morning! How many of you played the lottery this week? Be honest. I played. For those of you who don’t know, the estimated jackpot for Friday’s drawing in the Mega Millions lottery was one billion dollars. That’s billion with a B. I didn’t even know about it until Friday, when I was sitting at the cigar shop and one of the guys asked if anyone wanted to go in on some lottery tickets.
Of course, I said, yes! Who wouldn’t want to win a billion dollars? Yes, I know the odds. I know how stupid it is to play the lottery. But if a bunch of guys at the cigar shop all chipped in, and I didn’t put anything in the pot, then I’m sure they would have won, and I’d look like an idiot. It was worth the few bucks I kicked in to make sure that didn’t happen.
After we bought those tickets, we fantasized about what we would do with the money, then someone mentioned that lots of lottery winners go broke—they don’t know what to do with all the money and they give it away very quickly to friends and family. As the cliché goes: be careful what you wish for.
In our lesson from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus all but tells James and John, “be careful what you wish for.” This is probably a familiar story to many of you. The gospels suggest that among the disciples, Peter, James, and John were closest to Jesus. As such, it’s not really surprising that James and John would ask Jesus for a special blessing—a divine lottery ticket, if you will.
Jesus asks them what sort of payout they’re expecting if he grants them this winning ticket. They respond, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” They want the positions of honor at the banquet table when Jesus comes into his kingdom.
They still don’t get it. They want a better version of the world as it is. They want to enjoy their blessings, they don’t seek to be a blessing. They don’t envision a world transformed; they just want the best seats at the table. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about other people. It means they’re seeing themselves first. Their eyes are on worldly blessings. In the future.
In all honesty, I didn’t realize the New Jersey Lottery was going to hand me such a good sermon illustration this week. It’s easy to laugh at James and John—or any of the other disciples when they don’t quite get it. But the disciples are just like us. Sometimes we don’t quite get it. We don’t like the world as it is, but most of us fantasize about how much better things would be if we just won the lottery. I know I have!