Forming Faith Blog

Power and Glory? (March 8, 2020)

A homeless boy sitting on a bridge. James and John want power and glory, but true power is serving others.

We are now approaching the second Sunday of Lent. Last week, we began the Sundays of Lent with the story of Jesus’ conversation with a rich man who wanted to enter the kingdom of God. Unable to think of anything original to write on that, I reflected on two different approaches to the “children’s sermon:” object lessons and storytelling.

Three Episodes

The passage this week can be naturally divided into three episodes, as it is often done by the editors of our Bible translations. First, we have the third “passion prediction” (a term I dislike thanks to Dr. Rolf Jacobson’s teaching on them). Second is a request from James and John followed by a conversation about power and glory. The third is a request of a different sort, this time by a man named Bartimaeus.

What Is to Come

The primary point of each of our Gospel writers is to assert that this first-century Jewish man from Nazareth, Jesus, is the promised Messiah of Israel. Integral to this explanation is not only that Jesus is the Messiah, but also what kind of Messiah he is. Back in our reading for Transfiguration Sunday, Simon Peter gives the bold declaration of faith: “You are the Messiah.” Jesus then seeks to teach the disciples what that means in terms of what is going to happen when they complete their journey to Jerusalem. But they still don’t get it.

Do They Get It?

The first time Jesus teaches this, Peter (in his infinite wisdom) feels the need to correct Jesus. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go,” he might have said. After the second time, the disciples are caught having an argument about which one of them is the best. Now is the third and final time. Are the disciples going to finally get it? Nope. No, they are not.

A Blank Check?

James and John, the “sons of thunder,” proved themselves loud—and clueless—directly after this third teaching. I find it humorous how entitled they are showing themselves to be. They don’t even bother with a question: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” What? They’re demanding a blank check? Perhaps I’m missing something in my understanding of first-century Palestinian culture, but is this ever appropriate?

Visions of Glory

I imagine that Jesus, fully human as we confess, takes a deep, calming breath. “What do you want?” he responds. No blank checks from Jesus. “We want the most important positions when you come into your glory.” Another deep breath. And possibly a second. “You just don’t get it,” he replies, “Despite the fact I just got finished telling you for the third time. Are you really willing to undergo what I’m going to undergo?” “Yep,” they reply, still clueless. “Good,” he says, “because you are going to. But you are still not getting the positions of glory you are looking for. You don’t understand how this works (despite the fact that I just told you).”

Glory and Power

Peter, the arguing disciples, and John and James totally miss the point probably because they are holding onto an understanding of messiah that was popular at the time. For them, the Messiah was going to rise in power—military or spiritual—and lead a revolution. He would kick out the Romans and establish a powerful and independent kingdom of Israel, even better than the one David ruled over. The Messiah will be the most powerful person in the world, and no one could beat him. They’ve seen Jesus’ power over the unbeatable forces of sickness, demons, and even the chaotic storm, so they can’t wait to see what he does to the Romans. “And,” thought the disciples, “we’re in his inner circle, so we’ve got it made.”

Real Power

“Let’s try this again,” says Jesus. “Fourth times’ the charm, right? Yes, I’m the Messiah, and clearly God has given me the authority over sickness, evil, nature, and even death. So, yeah, I have the power of God. But—and this is important—I will not use my power against people. My power will not be used to conquer or rule. That’s not God’s way. Power is given to me, to all of us, for exactly one purpose: to serve others. Not status, not glory. Be as a slave. Bring freedom, health, and forgiveness to those who need them. Use it for others, not yourself. Love conquers, it’s true, but it conquers by subverting every idea of what ‘conquers’ even means. I’m going to ‘conquer’ by being defeated. True glory is about lifting others up. The best is at the bottom of the heap, not the top.”

A Demonstration

Mark doesn’t show us how the disciples reacted to this. Did they finally get it? Probably not. But they will. The seeds have been sown. Once this is all over, they’ll think back and realize “That’s what he meant!” Until then, Jesus goes about showing how to serve others. As he was going to Jericho, a “nobody” tried to get his attention. “Don’t bother the teacher,” some scolded this man who was blind and denied the dignity of work and therefore forced to beg. “He’s important, and you are so…not.” Bartimaeus wouldn’t accept this, and he had faith that Jesus wouldn’t either. He was right. Jesus, the powerful and important Messiah, asked Bartimaeus, “What can I do for you? How may I serve you?” Jesus uses his power to help, bringing healing and dignity to this beloved child of God.

The Ultimate Expression of Love

Admittedly, the idea of using your power and abilities to help people other than yourself is not unique to Jesus, or his followers. There were many in the ancient world who helped others, as there are many in our time who do the same without knowledge of Jesus’ teachings or example. His altruism is not what makes Jesus unusual. Rather, he had the singular identity as the leader sent by God, on whom many hopes in Israel rested. They expected power, freedom, and glory. Jesus upended their expectations and showed them what power, freedom, and glory looked like in the kingdom of God.

Free Resource

Our Living the Word: Youth curriculum this week invites participants to imagine an alternate world where Jesus did act according to the expectations of others in terms of power and glory. Download the free activity “The Glory Version” which challenges them to create a movie trailer of this different story. This activity would work well with youth and cross+generational education groups. Other ages and settings would likely require further adaptation.

May you experience the peace of God this Lenten season.

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)


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