No doubt, once the election next Monday is over, members of the winning party will be eyeing eagerly their leader’s next moves as he brings in his cabinet. To get a seat on this important body is to have the chance to wield real political power.
So it is not surprising that James and John, in our gospel passage this Sunday, are thinking along the same lines. They are convinced that, when Jesus gets to Jerusalem, he will be inaugurating his kingdom, throwing out the occupying Roman power, and re-establishing Israel as a mighty nation. Always alive to the main chance, they decide to get their bid in early to have places in his cabinet when that happens. The anger of the other disciples when they hear the brothers making their pitch to Jesus, is only because they didn’t think of the idea first themselves.
Now Jesus has made it abundantly clear, in his journey to Jerusalem, that his is anything but a victory campaign. He knows full well, and says as much, that his arrival in the nation’s capital will result in his arrest, torture and death. His “glory” will be attained at his crucifixion. Clearly the brothers James and John have let this piece of information go in one ear and out the other. They cannot let go of the hope of power. Jesus asks them a pointed question:” Are you ready and willing to be at my right and left hand when I am on the cross? They say “yes” but we all know that, when it comes down to it, they will, along with the other apostles, John excepted, be nowhere to be seen at Jesus’ death. There is a note of irony in Jesus saying that positions at his right hand and his left in his “glory” will not be his to assign. We know that those positions will be taken by two common criminals.
Aside from this, Jesus is making it abundantly clear that what he expects from his disciples, if they are truly to be future leaders in his community, is not a power-hungry attitude, but a “servant ” heart:” Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Jesus has never been about dominating over others, but about serving them:” For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Political pundits are predicting that the voter turn-out for next week’s election will be possibly the lowest yet, following a gradual decline over the last 50 years. Young people are expected to fail to turn up to vote. Amongst the many reasons given for this apathy, we can surely detect a note of cynicism. Stories abound in media, films and novels of once-idealistic politicians gradually corrupted by the desire for power. As British politician Lord Acton once famously said:” Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
No doubt aware of this tendency, Jesus is careful to steer his disciples away from the path of wanting power, whether political, social or religious. When we come to cast our votes on Monday, if we have not done so already, might we want to ask ourselves this question “Who among the candidates shows a true “servant heart?”