Matthew 10:32-45 Gratitude Season 2
Elizabeth M. Deibert 18 October 2015
You know how I like to measure success? By success, of course. By greatness, not service. By wins, not losses. By prominence, not lowliness. By life, not death. By cheerfulness, not sadness. I measure pastoral success by bodies in these seats, by how many people have joined recently, by your positive comments after worship, by the number of ministry and mission activities that are well-attended, and by changes I can see in people’s lives. How is success measured in our schools? By test scores. How is success measured in business? By the bottom line – profit and a growing customer base.
Even back in Jesus’ day, political and religious success was seen in terms of power and authority. James and John had followed Jesus long enough to know he was going places and doing great things. They wanted to make sure they were going to be Vice President and Secretary of State. And Jesus said, you don’t seem to understand that this presidency, this crowning is going to be different from all others. Were you not listening to me? Listen, friends. Hear, really hear what He is saying:
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again."
35 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."
Imagine it with me for a moment: Jesus was just telling them what we heard last Sunday, “How hard it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. For mortals impossible, but for God possible. Then he ends this talk with the words he has said three times in different ways, “The first will be last and the last, first.” So he is walking along with the disciples and others. Some are afraid and some are amazed, and Jesus continues, “We’re going to Jerusalem and I’ll be handed over to the powerful people and condemned. They and the crowds will mock me, spit on me, whip me, and kill me. And in three days I’ll rise again.” So it seems the disciples might have said, “What! Surely this will not happen to you? Why would you let them do this?” But no, James and John are thinking about themselves and their own desire for power and prominence.
Notice Jesus does not chastise them, but he does question them. You don’t know what you are asking. Are you sure you can take the abuse I’m getting ready to take? Besides, I cannot give you a place of prominence – this falls to God to give prominence to those who are prepared for it – who is prepared, the meek, the humble, the hungry, the poor? Then all ten disciples get into this battle for power, and Jesus decides to explain a little further what his mission really is…the power that comes from loving sacrifice, the strength that comes from embracing weakness, the love and joy that come from giving it away, instead of hoarding it.
To give his life to liberate others – that’s Christ’s type of leadership. To give it all away, so that those who have nothing are freed. Jesus is inviting us to follow him into servitude – not forced slavery, for that is an evil that should never, ever be imposed on anyone, and God forgive our ancestors and our brothers and sisters who still impose slavery on unsuspecting immigrants and victims of sexual trafficking, trapped by a system which keeps them from speaking up when they are in chains. Jesus would never condone such inhumane treatment of human persons. No, he is talking about voluntary service, making your life a gift for the sake of others. He’s talking about a re-orientation of life away from self-serving interests to caring more for the other. Those in power are the ones most called to this. The weak are the ones liberated when the powerful serve – that’s the re-orientation that would change the world, if we all got on board with it.
There are two different words used in this text – doulos and diakonos. Doulos is translated slave and diakonos, servant, from which we also get the word, “deacon.”
Not so among the Gentiles and those who live according to worldly values: that’s not service but power exercised over another. Or even worse, service that looks like it’s genuine, but it’s not. It is not service for the sake of serving, but serving with a selfish purpose. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? The people who are obsequious because they want something from you. They are all about helping you until they get to the punch line – they need something from you. Or they have been trained to act like they care because the boss is interested in customer service for the sake of the bottom line.
So what does real service look like? I ask you to think about this with me. What is real service to your family members? Giving to them without regard for what you will get back. Real service in your job or volunteer work? Going that extra mile not in anticipation of a bonus or extra affirmation but just because it is the right thing to do. Real service to your neighbors and fellow Christians? Giving that requires sacrifice. But is does not have to be onerous and make your miserable. No, the best type of service is service with a genuine smile, the smile that means this is a random act of kindness, not one that is seeking payback.
Today’s I Like Giving video is about a 98 year-old woman who has not stopped serving her neighbors in love. If she’s still serving, so better we.
(Video about a 98 year-old woman who renewed her license so she could take her neighbor to the grocery store. She likes serving.)
God loves a cheerful giver as it says in 2 Corinthians 9:7. Not a conniving giver. Just someone always paying it forward, because of the pure joy of giving. I like serving. Do you like serving? Then let’s get on with it. And that word, diakonos, servant, means literally, the one kicks up dust, running to serve his or her master. That’s what it means to serve, to be hurrying to please God, to accomplish God’s purposes. As Matthew West says in his music video, we cannot just pray to God about the problems of the world and throw up our hands and say, “God why don’t you do something” Because God did. God created us and gave us hands and feet. So as the song goes, “If not us, then who. If not me and you. Right now. It’s time for us to do something. If not now, then when….will we see an end…. to all this pain…. It’s not enough to do nothing. It’s time for us to do something.
We must set aside concern for what we will get out of it or what we will lose. Just serve without reserve, like Jesus. Just serve. Be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s not just coming to church that matters. It’s being the church. Being the church everywhere you go! It’s have that “at your service” spirit of Christ all the time with everyone and especially with those close to you.