Jesus is God, but he became a servant. He is the righteous judge, but gave himself up to the verdict of wicked men. This is the humility of our Lord: He had nothing to gain; yet he gave up all he had.
Everyone esteems the virtue of humility, but to step into the reality of our lives is to remember how contrary it is to our thinking. In so many ways we are accustomed to building ourselves up – proving our worth, impressing people, vying to be noticed and honored. Ironically, we even hope to be recognized for our humility. If you think giving up TV or coffee for Lent is hard, give up trying to get attention for a day. You will realize how pervasive our desire is to be lifted up.
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’” (Mark 10:35).
How’s that for humble prayer? “Before I say what I want, I want you to say you’ll do it.” We are good at telling God what we want, but we are not very good at learning what God wants. That kind of learning takes patience, reflection, study, obedience, and all kinds of things that require deep humility. It’s much easier just to go with what we think is best. Jesus entertains the request: “What do you want me to do for you? And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory” (Mark 10:36-37).
It was an absurd request, but not to them of course. They had it in their heads that Jesus would deliver them from their oppressors and establish an earthly reign. Further, they saw themselves as high-ranking officials in the new regime. Their perception of reality and their notion of what was good and right prevented them from understanding what Jesus had just told them: “The Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him” (Mark 10:33-34).
If you come to God on your terms, expecting him to fit into your worldview and align with the way you think things ought to be, you are starting off on the wrong foot, and that will lead you down the wrong path. You’ll end up saying things that are absurd. Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (10:38). In other words: “My glory is not what you think it is. And the path of glory is certainly not what you think it is.” Like we often do, these brothers had mistaken famous for significance. Importance speaks to the value we derive from things like position, status, and the esteem of others. It is about building our brand: dropping names, getting close to popular people, flaunting knowledge, looking busy, defining spiritual maturity by activity and achievement. Significance speaks to the value we add to people and culture. It’s about building others up: remembering their name, drawing near to the fringe, teaching others, being accessible, defining spiritual maturity by love for others, exalting Jesus as the head of the body, and appreciating the contribution of each member.
(adapted from Journey to the Cross: Readings and Devotions for Lent, pp. 57-59)