The Lies We Live By
“James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
And Jesus paused. It’s not there in the text. But Jesus paused. He had just said: “the Son of Man will be handed over…they will condemn him, mock him, spit on him, and flog him.” So we’ve been through this, right? Just last week! The First Shall Be Last, the Last Shall Be First. But the disciples of the Way of the Servant come up and start off with they want him to do something for them.
So Jesus…pauses. A rabbi, a teacher. Knows that this is what we might today call a teachable moment. Not the first one. Matter of fact it’s the third, just on this topic. But that’s alright. We keep going until we get it.
And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" You see, this is great. Jesus gets to play this out, to see what’s inside their darned fool heads. And he gets to do it by being the demonstration. This is Jesus, right? History’s biggest object lesson.
So you know, when the Hebrews of the Old Testament responded to a call – Moses, Moses – what did they say? “Here I am” or “Ready!” is better translation. Present. Ready. Waiting. What is it you want me to do for you? The same attitude.
And they said to him… "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." And Jesus takes a big, deep breath. It’s not in the text. But Jesus takes a big, deep breath.
Now it’s a little easy to be hard on the disciples. They’ve been thick. But are they that stupid? I mean, what similes would they have for Jesus? What precedents would have fit? The Romans, right – they understand submission! What about the Pharisees – they know love, they live it out, right? No?
No. Think of the disciples as people who have been lied to. Every moment, every occasion, of every living day. People who were told that all Romans were citizens, unless they were women. People who were told that all men were free, unless they were slaves. People who were told that they had a voice in the Empire, unless they lacked property and pedigree.
And that’s just on the Gentile side of things, that’s not even talking local politics. Israel politics. Temple politics. The culture of the Temple being built on the backs of day laborers working for a pittance after the Romans had taxed them off of their own land.
Were they daft, the disciples? Or did they simply live in a world so thick with the lies of status and wealth and privilege and hierarchy that they could not breathe in any place where those lies were not.
Now that’s not us, right? We aren’t lied to. We don’t get false messages about who we are or what we want. We aren’t told literally 5,000 times a day that we can purchase happiness, that pleasure has a price. We aren’t told that all men and women are equal, so long as they can afford some decent clothes and dental work. We aren’t told everyone is free, so long as they can afford a vacation, a car, a retirement fund, a nice little ranch house. We aren’t told that we still have day-laborers in this country, this city, this neighborhood, but that’s okay because that work just gets done, they need jobs, don’t worry about it – no, we aren’t told that, of course.
And if we were lied to, we would see right through it, wouldn’t we? If we were told that all we needed to do to be saved would be to give all we have to poor and follow Jesus, we wouldn’t even hesitate. We’d hear that, right? If we were told that all this church would have to do to was empty the coffers, pour everything out, just dump the entire budget into the Shelf Of Hope, we wouldn’t even blink. We’d see to that straight off. Here I Am. Ready. What do you want us to do for you?
You know, we’re ready to talk down that Prosperity Gospel. We know that’s wrong. But you start actually talking about the Way – you start talking about the Poverty Gospel – oh, that’s different. If Aron got up here and started talking about how this church, how Gethsemane Episcopal still just has too much money, that’s what’s holding us back! Too much dough!
Well then that’s harder. And if you change that around, start talking about other kinds of wealth, if you start talking about It Is Easier For a Camel to Go Through the Eye of a Needle Than for A Nice Church Building to Serve the Kingdom of Heaven, then that’s harder still.
People start looking at you funny, like they don’t hear you just right.
So, not so stupid, these men. Think of the disciples as people who have been lied do. They’ve seen the Way, they just haven’t seen the way out. Not yet.
But Jesus – Jesus lets out that big, deep breath – and says "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
Now we don’t even know exactly what this means. Could be Eucharist and Baptism. Could be crucifixion. Could be the Heavenly Feast for all we know – Table Arrangements at the Apocalypse. You do not know what you are asking.
They replied, "We are able." Isn’t that nice? Last week we’ve got the truly righteous young man, this week, we’ve got the disciples all ready to do you know, whatever. Good stuff! We Are Able. Not: what do you want us to do for you? But: We Are Able.
This way, you know, you get to be a servant without actually worrying about the service. Because we love service in general. It’s only the particularities that are unpleasant. We Are Able. To do what, exactly?
Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.” Well, if they don’t get it now, they’ll get it later. They’ll look back and remember that certain things were said. The lesson, after all, is soon going to become one great big undeniable detail.
“But to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." Because the table’s already set, right? Raised up right* and left*. Who sits there, eventually? Two bandits, thieves. Criminal scum. Maybe a drug dealer, a day-laborer. These are, you know, his people. Right before this you got Jesus blessing the dirty rugrats and turning away That Nice Young Rich Man. Right afterwards, he treats with a blind beggar. His people.
At my right and left hand, says the Lord. For them it’s been prepared. Think of the disciples as people who had been lied to.
What do lies do? The disciples have been through this three times now: Jesus is going to die. And if they follow Him, so will they. Jesus has been clear. Unequivocal, even. Plain, ordinary, everyday Aramaic. And time and time again they don’t get it. Are they stupid? Or does it seem like there is just maybe something wrong with them…doesn’t it? Something wrong, what, like an illness, like a spiritual thing.
Think of the disciples as people who have been lied to. So that they cannot see the truth.
And by the way, that later blind beggar gets exactly the same question from Jesus: “What would you have me do for you?” And of course it’s “Teacher, let me see again.” So pop! It’s done. Your Faith Has Made You Well.
Think of the disciples as people who have been lied to.
So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom
they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”
There’s this book, a scholarly classic, ‘Metaphors We Live By’. Two ideas shape everything we do: the stern father, the nurturing parent. Not right or wrong, these metaphors. Just what we get being in a family, being a kid. Stern father. Nurturing parent. Among The Gentiles Their Rulers Lord It Over Them. Stern father. Paterfamilias is the Roman word.
“But not so among you, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Nurturing parent? Those are the details, right? Their diapers and food and clothes and toys. Messes and necessities. So we’ve got this right: hope does go on a shelf. Service is no idea. Service is physical reality. Let The Little Ones Come To Me. Nurturing parent. There's a lesson.
Think of the disciples as people who have been lied to.
“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
For who? How many? The criminal who the Romans released instead of Jesus? All Israel preserved for giving up one of its own? Everyone in here? Everyone out there? Or was it, maybe, for those disciples, who would get it in the end, in every sense of the term. Maybe that’s just how much it took. Maybe the lies were just that strong. Maybe it’s not just metaphors we live by. Maybe it’s lies, too.
Well. I’m not going to ask Gethsemane to empty out its budget. Or you to give up your possessions. But I am going to tell you: You are being lied to. Every minute. Of every day. And we don’t get it. If we did, the world would be different. We would be different. But we’re not. And it’s not.
So. You disciples: Who is lying to you? When, and why? And what truth are we so blind to? And if you could ask Jesus to do for you, would it be a place at the right hand of God, or would it be, finally, simply, to see clear through all that bull.