In today’s gospel Jesus continues to teach the disciples about His impending death and resurrection whilst they are journeying towards Jerusalem. In it, Jesus speaks about ambition and about authentic Christian leadership.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus freely and knowingly journeys to Jerusalem where he knows what awaits him. On the journey he constantly tries to make the disciples understand that only in death will his ‘glory’ as redeemer of the people be fully revealed. Jesus’ words to his closest disciples seem to be intended to prepare them for the events that will occur in Jerusalem.
Jesus in the gospel reading today is faced with a question of power and the exercise of power when brothers’ James and John the sons of Zebedee put in a request, “Grant us to sit one on your left and one on your right when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus tells them that it is not in his power to decide who will do what in God’s kingdom and says that whoever seeks power among us should look to serve the others and whoever would seek first place, “must be the slave of all.”
Jesus presents us with a challenge, if we claim to be true followers of Christ then we are not to look for rewards in terms of position, power and status in life, instead we follow the example of Jesus the Messiah and Saviour who came as a servant, the slave of all. To be a servant, Jesus gave his life for others by dying on the cross.
James and John’s thirst for ambition stirred up resentment and indignation among the disciples. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with ambition which is often used for the greater good and not just for personal gain. Most people use ambition to better themselves and their surroundings, and not all ambition is wrong. As parents we are proud of our children, of our work of our accomplishments either physical or intellectual. However, the Scriptures point out that selfish ambition is sinful. In James’ letter we find “If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth…. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3: 14-16).
Jesus teaches the disciples the importance of service and sacrifice and he rejected leadership based on power. Jesus saw himself on the cross as the primary model for “servant leadership.” He was preparing the Twelve for their leadership roles in the emerging Christian community. We too as baptised Christians are called to be ambitious to grow in holiness, and to be ambitious for the Kingdom of God; for the spread of the Gospel message within our daily lives and within our families which results in the growth of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. We might take this opportunity to consider our own models of authority. On whose example do I model my own leadership?