Throughout the gospels, Jesus is not just teaching and reminding disciples about faith, or just healing and casting out demons or getting into trouble with the authorities or sticking up for the outcasts or seeking justice for the oppressed.
No, Jesus also does something else that can sometimes seem quite disconcerting to his disciples, and by extension to us – he asks questions that he wants us to answer:
- Do you love me Peter?
- Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my father’s house? He says to his concerned parents.
- To another he says, ‘Those who believe in me will never die – do you believe this?
- ‘Have you come to arrest me as though I were a bandit?’ to Caiaphas’ men.
- To the disciples he asked: ‘Could you not stay awake with me one hour?’
- And finally, Jesus says, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani’ – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’
In today’s passage which is very much set in Lent, as Jesus heads towards Jerusalem and the cross he asks a question we hear a few times from his lips – usually as he is about to ‘heal’ someone – Verse 36 – What do you want me to do for you?
James and John approached Jesus in such a bold, yet naïve way – and simply spoke their minds.
But sadly the, and often like us, were seeking special favours – wanting a higher place in the kingdom of God.
While their request may have been honest and sincere, it was one that was self-serving.
They still did not get it that just as Jesus came into the world to serve, not to be served, he was modelling this for them to imitate as well.
We have every right to come before our Lord with our requests, but it must always be tempered by discerning what is it that Jesus wants and what our God wills.
In Mark’s rendition of this story – it is not Judas getting the bad rap or Peter’s bad decision to deny Jesus three times, or doubting Thomas who desires to see things with his eyes in order to have faith – it is James and John. And remember that John never makes mention of this incident in his gospel and Matthew speaks about it but whitewashes the two disciples by having their mother make the request.
Mark on the other hand puts it right out there – their arrogance and self-centredness still ends up with their own transformation – which reminds us how Jesus can change the world and the likes of you and me.
But within Jesus’ answer to James and John, he asks them further, the question on whether they could pay the cost/the price and then he goes on to talk about what true greatness means.
I believe Jesus will give us what we ask for if we do it in a right mind and heart – we think of the words Jesus says in Matthew 7:7 ‘Knock and the door will be opened for you, ask and it will be given you’.
But …. There is always a cost.
We may see the kingdom come but we must put away greed, pride, self-centredness, envy, lust and anger, and realise that we may have been the obstacles to its coming.
The disciples wanted discipleship but it cost them their fishing boats, tax collecting booth, and their old ways of life.
Some wanted forgiveness, but it cost them the dying to their old way of life.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us of a costless or cheap answer when he used this wonderful phrase – ‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession.
Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.’
From today’s passage we may learn many things, but perhaps for us in Lent, it is that while there is cost within the answer Jesus gives us: healing potentially begins when we ask the question.
Lord, thank you for your word to us. May we always remember the cost that you bore for us, as you took your Lenten journey, to thus become the answer to all of our questions. Amen.