When he (Jesus) had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him. – Mark 1:19-20
Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:20-28
I love the honesty in Scripture. The honesty of Scripture is one of the proofs of its authenticity. I mean if you were going to write a book about your life why would you fill it with your failures? As a case in point, just scroll through social media and look at how people portray their virtual best selves there. How often to you read an, “I blew it!” post? I would posit that Facebook is a place where we can brag about our accomplishments, the accomplishments of our children or friends, and it is a place where we can create an image of ourselves that we want the world to believe. I mean who takes a selfie that actually shows our double chin, wrinkles or bald spot?
I just looked back over my past several Facebook posts and they are about one of my favorite Johnny Cash songs (Hurt), my latest amazon purchase (a Gronkowski #87 jersey, don’t hate me), a post about my wife and looking back to our early days of dating and marriage (my, my have I changed…), and some promos of recent books that I’ve read that I feel compelled to tell others to read too (they really are great books!).
In Mark 1:19-20 we read that James and John were simple, uneducated fisherman, that Jesus noticed and called to follow Him. The fact that John and James readily dropped their nets to follow Jesus suggests that either Jesus was pretty darn charismatic or they hated their jobs (or maybe both). What would it take for you to drop your “net” and leave your job to follow Jesus? If you are like me, you have read over those two verses so many times that you don’t really even stop to think about what really happened there. It was an honor to be called to follow a Rabbi during the time of Jesus. Only the best students were called to follow a Rabbi to learn from them so that they could go on to teach others what they learned by sitting under their Rabbi.
James and John had probably already accepted the fact that they were just common fisherman, doomed to a life of obscurity and manual labor. I mean if you were an up and coming Rabbi who would you pick to be your disciples? Would you pick students from the most educated and wealthy families possible to kick-start your career or would you call some illiterate, poor students who were a hot mess and would demand way more from you than they could give?
In that context it is no wonder that James and John threw down their nets to follow Jesus. Jesus represented adventure and a second chance to do something significant with their lives. I’m not sure what John and James mom and dad thought about this career change since they probably were essential for the success of the family business, but in Matthew 20:20-28 we read that the brother’s mother also became a follower of Jesus. Imagine John and James’s mother’s pride at seeing her sons walking around and ministering with Jesus. Can you imagine if smart phones and Instagram existed back during those times? Do you think that this mother would have posted lots of pictures of Jesus, or of her boys serving right along side the Son of God? My guess is that she would have focused on her boys and if she did post a few videos of Jesus teaching or performing miracles, she would have tagged her boys to make sure everyone knew that they were right by Jesus’s side during those miracles.
I know that I’m being a little hard on James and John’s mother but she was just doing what a good mother (and father) would do when she asked Jesus if her boys could sit at His left and right side. She had watched her boys transform from uneducated fisherman to one of Jesus’ closest friends. Trust me, I would be blasting that out on social media too!
What I love about these verses is that Jesus doesn’t humiliate James and Johns’ mother and point out the fact that she is being very selfish in her request. Instead, He sees an opportunity to teach a lesson on servant leadership. In Matthew 20: 24-28 Jesus taught His followers that leadership isn’t about bossing people around. True leadership is about putting other’s first and serving them with no expectation of thanks or reward. Servant leadership is about sacrificing so that others don’t have to.
Did you know that there is an organization dedicated to teaching the principles of servant leadership? According to the Robert K. Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership:
“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”
“The difference manifests itself in the care taken by the servant-first to make sure that other people’s highest priority needs are being served. The best test, and difficult to administer, is: Do those served grow as persons? Do they, while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely themselves to become servants? And, what is the effect on the least privileged in society? Will they benefit or at least not be further deprived?”
“A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different.”
“The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.”
So what kind of leader do you aspire to be? Do you see leadership as a position of power and control or do you see leadership as a lofty calling to become broken so that others can be whole? Something to think about…