A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

How the Greatness of Life Is Measured

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. "Teacher," they said, "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked. They replied, "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory." "You don't know what you are asking," Jesus said. "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?" "We can," they answered. Jesus said to them, "You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 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."

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as 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 slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:35-45).

How inappropriate and how out of place for James and John to ask this of Jesus! Our first reaction is one of shock and dismay. Jesus' reaction appears to have been the same. "You don't know what you're asking," he says to them. "Are you able to drink the cup I will drink?" And along with the hymn, the two brothers declare boldly, "Lord, we are able." No doubt they believe that at the moment.

James and John seem to have ignored everything that Jesus had just said about his own suffering and death, and have jumped forward in time to focus on his coming glory. Then, they imagine they will be rewarded for having stuck by Jesus through troubled times. They talk to Jesus like politicians expecting rewards of patronage. They want cabinet positions in the new administration; "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left, in glory." Here is Jesus approaching his most troubled hour and James and John are competing for the positions of Secretary of State and Secretary of the Treasury!

James and John did not truly understand what it meant to drink Jesus' cup. It was a metaphorical way of speaking of his own suffering, crucifixion, and death. That is why it seems so strange that James and John could make such a request. Had they not been listening as Jesus spoke to them along the way and over the months? The disciples are not listening.

The main problem with James and John's request was that they wanted the rewards without the suffering. They wanted Easter without Good Friday. The wanted the crown without the cross. They wanted the gain without the pain. They did not realize that the two places at Jesus' right and left hands would soon be occupied by persons hanging on crosses! And so Jesus had to teach them. He said, "You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great leaders exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you" (10:43).

Yet down through the ages it has been so. The church has often absorbed the world's standards, almost by osmosis. We find it hard to accept Jesus' complete reversal of values. Basically what Jesus says is that the greatness of our lives will be measured by the amount of real service we render to others.

Jesus' teaching to James and John and the rest of the disciples is instructive for us as we have journeyed through another season of Lent approaching Easter; and Easter cannot become a reality in our lives without embracing and experiencing Good Friday.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

The Christians I have met have often had "agendas", which put them in positions of prominence, at the expense of others. This character trait is not to be enabled, because it asks others to deny their own life, liberty and pursuits for "their good". This is palatable if it is an understood and agreed upon value upfront, as in social contract, but not if it is a deceptive means of manipulating another.

Enabling those who do not have honesty and integrity to be forthright in their "agendas", are not to be followed, as they will produce tyranny.

Those who lie, cheat, steal and undermine others in their own agendas, priorities, or values are what we see in our government today. This should not be. Public service is one that should be valued for the sake of our government's principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for each and every individual, not just the select or elite few rulers. And sacrifice or suffering cannot be demanded from the outside, it must be a value and commitment from within. Otherwise, it becomes a form of coercive enforcement of value, which undermines "natural law", or "human rights".

How is suffering or sacrifice measured for leadership? People judge "sacrifice" again upon their own value system. Just yesterday, I heard about a lady whose husband works for AIG and she said that the bonuses were promised as part of their salary, their contract. They live in the NY area because of their priority and value of the husband/father's ability to come home every night to be with his family. They could have chosen to live further away and live more inexpensively, but it would mean that they would only see their husband/father on the week-ends. This lady felt that the economic costs was worth the value of having her husband at home...Would a "discipleship program" demand that this family "count the costs" of following Jesus and live in a more inexpensive area and give to the poor?

Do those who think they understand this scripture think that there is only "one way" or "choice" of sacrifice for this family to meet the requirements of "discipleship"? If so, that is why I am disgusted with Christian faith.

Allan R. Bevere said...


You ask, "Do those who think they understand this scripture think that there is only 'one way' or 'choice' of sacrifice for this family to meet the requirements of 'discipleship'?"

The answer to your question is clearly No, but then again your continued overgeneralized accounting of Christianity is unable to take note of the sophistication of the discipline of nuance.

You also say, "People judge 'sacrifice' again upon their own value system.: You reject the tyranny of religion and simply replace it with the tyranny of the autonomous self.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you for your response.

I replace the tyranny of religion, with the tyranny of the autonomous self...

I don't believe that the "autonomous self" is tyrannical, unless there is an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for others, which is really an underdeveloped "self", or a complete "disconnection" because "self" cannot trust...these are types of "mental illness".

I believe that any whole (autonomous) person is able to be responsible for their own choices, come to terms with thier own values, etc. This is a maturing of "self" in psychological terms. And it means human flourishing, which is what any "caring or responsible adult" desires for others.

So, I think you set up a false distinction when you dichotomize the tyranny of religion with "self". Religion can help or damage the "self" in development, but it is not necessary. A lot depends on the community that one is "attached to", such is the case with any social structure, i.e. family, church, government, business, or organization.

I think that the "bad" experiences I have had in Christian circles, has only been good for me, in the long run, as it has helped me critically analyze my own values, and why I hold them. And some of these values were because of a childish need, indeed, a human one, but nevertheless an "ideal" of "peace and goodwill" toward all men. The real world does not function nor will it become the "ideal".

Allan R. Bevere said...


Recommendation: Read Alasdair McIntyre's book After Virtue.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I will try to read the book. But, in reading the synopsis, I have three thoughts.

1.)He seems to critique "the thinking self" of Decartes, which is modernity's forte. But, reason should be the basis of value based behavior. He seems to affirm tradition's role in defining values, which I do and don't agree. Tradition has its drawbacks, as it defines what is right without thinking through the challenges that face the larger world. While tradition sometimes hinders progress, and forward thinking, Faith also cannot be the sole basis of behavior, otherwise, there is a presumptive stance toward the future. The futue is never promised, we only have the present.

2.)His use of teleos is based in virtue ethics. While virtue ethics should underwrite values. Values are the framework of our "ends", not virtue. Virtue is the result of giving of ourselves to the values we hold most dear. Otherwise, we subsume our values to someone else's "teleos". Agreement is necessary whenever there is a conflict in values. This is where negotiation "happens". Otherwise, there is abuse of power.

3.)Autonomy does not mean "living alone" or "apart from" others, but it does mean that one can take a stand about one's values with or without another's approval.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And of course, because I am speaking in universl terms of personal values, which affirm individual goals in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (human rights), I am insinuating that another's value system may differ, but that does not mean in the civil, law-abiding West that these do not deserve respect or dignity. This does not mean that we co-operate, enabling others to continue to pursue damaging values to themselves or others, but that we do not dismiss, destroy, deny opportunity to those who may differ in their values.

Allan R. Bevere said...


The big problem I have with your thinking is your employment of terminology. You use the notion of reason as if it is an objective entity in and of itself. Postmodernism has effectively challenged that understanding of reason.

Second, your understanding of tradition is deeply problematic. You say tradition defines what is right without thinking through the challenges that face the larger world. Surely, you can't be serious about this? That is a sweeping and simplistic indictment of the place of tradition in the history of thought. Indeed, more than a few philosophers have argued for a tradition of reason.

Third, you appear to define faith as fideism, which I reject and so do most Christians. Faith and reason are not synonymous, but neither are they mutually exclusive.

You make a false distinction between virtue and value. "Value" is a modern Western free market notion that turns everything, including morality, into a commodity. I believe in the free market economy, but not commodified morality.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Oh, and I remember his use f "emotive", as if feelings are or should be in opposition to virtue.

If this is his view, I find this very simplistic. Emotions are part of being human, they can be used for good or evil, but there is no virtue in negating them, as they can also be gauges that inform us about ourselves.

The Stoic philosophy which influenced certin scriptural writings have been used by the religious to "live in denial" and think that that is being spiritual. Deny reality, deny what happened, how you feel and what that means, and everything will go away and one will "be mature". This is unhealthy psychology...

Anonymous said...

Allan, good post on Good Friday. The reminder of Jesus choosing sacrifice and thus making it a part of the Christian life is timely, even if misunderstood by many. Our culture does not lend itself to any kind of sacrifice and suffering. I am not sure where Angie is coming from. You had plenty of criticism for Christians in you blog. They were far more appropriate than the issues raised by Angie. I am sorry she endured pain and damage from Christians.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

My point was not about my personal experience, although experience cannot be denied in our understanding somewhat. We are wired to "read" or interpret experience.
Suffering and/or sacrifice is not necessarily "for the best", unless it furthers a value that is to be supported. A value that does not basically underwrite our "liberal socety" is a value to not be supported. Freedom is the first and foremost value that must be defended AT ALL COSTS! Otherwise, we live under tyranny of some kind.
So, if someone's view of "scripture" requires sacrificing liberty, then I will not support it, and this is where sacrifice might be required.
Sacrifice and suffering are only valued when they are chosen by an individual because of belief in a greater cause, conviction, or value. And of course, in a democracy, we will differ, as to how we understand those values.

Ted M. Gossard said...

Good words. Yes, indeed. I'm glad for the true servant leaders I've witnessed in my lifetime, and I hope I've learned well from their example, and am following them as they indeed did follow Christ.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Yes, our culture is not geared toward sacrifice and suffering; and one cannot understand the Gospel or follow in the way of discipleship unless one chooses the sacrifice Jesus chose. The irony of this is that when one becomes a disciple, the willingness to be a suffering presence in the world is no longer an option; it is intrinsic to the way of Jesus and the cross.


Yes, we need more servant leaders today. There are not nearly enough of them.