Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”
James and John thought that the path of discipleship, their faithful following of Jesus, would naturally lead them to the celebrated “head table,” to places of honor and rightful recognition in this world. So confident are they about this future that they try to force Jesus to promise that he will save them those places of honor at the table.
Jesus summarily rejects James’ and John’s seating chart. “Headship” is not the true identity of discipleship. The way of the world, the world of head honchos at head tables, was not the way of discipleship.
Disciples are “great” by becoming “servants.” The “first” in a lineup of Jesus’ disciples is the one at the bottom of the heap, the “slave of all.” The world may judge greatness by who’s “on top,” who’s “on first.” But Jesus declares to those who would follow him, in some of the most powerful words of Scripture, “it is not so among you.”
Discipleship identity is not defined success or status, wealth or power. Discipleship identity is found in Christ, in following Jesus not just on his miraculous ministry before Jerusalem, but in following Jesus all the way to the cross. In fact, you might even say that discipleship is less about who you are, than whose you are and whom you serve. In him our identity is safe and secure . . . .from all alarm.
Jesus’ disciples live according to different “rules” than does the world. The truth is Jesus’ disciples live according to different “relationships” than does the world.
There is a long-standing tradition of having to pass a quiz at the Pearly Gates. In the more humorous versions St. Peter proctors the test. In the serious versions it is Jesus who actually asks the questions. I don’t really know anything about those Pearly Gates. But my mind often conduct theological reveries on what those questions might be.
Here is my current crib sheet for the Pearly Gates quiz. I have three potential questions, each one an identity question. I invite you to add your own.
Question #1: Show me your hands.
Are they dirty and wet? Or did you keep your hands clean? If your hands are clean, the gates refuse to open. The Incarnation means God came down. How far down? All the way down, even to the point where Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, the filthiest parts of the body in the first century mindset. You don’t wash anyone’s feet without getting your hands dirty and wet. Holiness is not keeping your hands clean, but getting your hands dirty and wet in serving those Jesus loves. The mark of a clean heart? Dirty hands.
Question #2: Show me your scars.
Do you have any battle-scars from our mission sorties in the world? Tell me your scar stories. In the words of Canadian composer and lyricist Leonard Cohen, “Children show scars like medals. Lovers use them as a secret to reveal. A scar is what happens when the Word is made flesh.”
Question #3: Show me your Facebook friends.
Are all your “friends” just like you? Or do you have friends that don’t look like you, don’t think like you, don’t worship like you, don’t sit where you sit at the table? Or is your Facebook page just one long look in the mirror?
We are to be discernible disciples of Jesus who live by the polities and protocols of another world, a world where our identity is secured and protected by our Lord.
Dear Lord, I know full well that my identity is found in you, as the Wesley Covenant proclaims: I am Yours and You are mine. But my hands are to clean, my scars are few and my facebook looks more like me than the calling of your heart. Dirty my hands by sending me out in service. Scar me as I live out your Word, and surround me with all your people. In and through Jesus. Amen.
Grace and Peace