Red Letter Year: 5/9

Matthew 20:17-34

17 As Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside privately and told them what was going to happen to him. 18 “Listen,” he said, “we’re going up to Jerusalem, where the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die. 19 Then they will hand him over to the Romans to be mocked, flogged with a whip, and crucified. But on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”

20 Then the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus with her sons. She knelt respectfully to ask a favor. 21 “What is your request?” he asked.

She replied, “In your Kingdom, please let my two sons sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”

22 But Jesus answered by saying to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”

“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”

23 Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup. But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. My Father has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”

24 When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 25 But Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

29 As Jesus and the disciples left the town of Jericho, a large crowd followed behind. 30 Two blind men were sitting beside the road. When they heard that Jesus was coming that way, they began shouting, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

31 “Be quiet!” the crowd yelled at them.

But they only shouted louder, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

32 When Jesus heard them, he stopped and called, “What do you want me to do for you?”

33 “Lord,” they said, “we want to see!” 34 Jesus felt sorry for them and touched their eyes. Instantly they could see! Then they followed him.


Having just told a parable showing that the kingdom of God in unlike self-interested economic practices, Jesus reiterates that he is going to be arrested, executed, and resurrected. The last time Jesus brought this up, Peter rebuked him and earned a stern response from Jesus. This time no one counters him directly, but the mother of James and John tries to change the subject, asking  Jesus about what will happen after he drives out the Romans and takes over rule of Israel. Her sons are quick to assure Jesus they are ready for key leadership roles in his new political regime. This shows that they still did not understand what Jesus was about. His response tells us that the self-interest of all political rulers is an assumed fact for Jesus, he has not come to challenge them within the confines of their own systems. His challenge is broader and deeper and involves creating a community that serves as a prophetic witness against all constructions of power founded on self-interest. This means his kingdom must be built on a foundation of self-sacrifice, of service, of authority that takes joy in the flourishing of those it serves, not in its control of them. This passage reminds us that followers of Jesus (even ones closest to him) are as prone to grasp and flaunt power as others are and that such moves are self-defeating for those who want to do kingdom work.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 2/6

Mark 9:30-50

30 Leaving that region, they traveled through Galilee. Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there, 31 for he wanted to spend more time with his disciples and teach them. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. He will be killed, but three days later he will rise from the dead.” 32 They didn’t understand what he was saying, however, and they were afraid to ask him what he meant.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

33 After they arrived at Capernaum and settled in a house, Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing out on the road?” 34 But they didn’t answer, because they had been arguing about which of them was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.”

36 Then he put a little child among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not only me but also my Father who sent me.”

38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.”

39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us. 41 If anyone gives you even a cup of water because you belong to the Messiah, I tell you the truth, that person will surely be rewarded. 42 But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. 45 If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It’s better to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out.’ 49 For everyone will be tested with fire. 50 Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? You must have the qualities of salt among yourselves and live in peace with each other.”


This passage is one I hope you will sit with today because it is so familiar, so easily overlooked, and so radical. The argument over who is the greatest in the kingdom has been had many, many times since then by probably most of the people who have ever served or led in any way in the Christian church. Comparing ourselves to others, climbing the ladder of success, these are basic to our fallen, human nature. Since Cain and Abel, we have compared ourselves to our brothers and sisters. 

But Jesus wants none of it. They tried to have this discussion (and how could that have gone other than poorly?) quietly without him knowing, but Jesus went out of his way to deal with it, to make clear that his kingdom doesn’t have room for jockeying for position, for power plays, for leaders who seek to gain honor and benefit for leading. We have made room for such things, we have followed the disciples’ poor example here far more often than we have heeded Jesus’ radical correction of it. Power and authority as the world knows it and practices it has been condemned by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When we practice the standard, ‘if you’re not with me, you’re against me,’ we get it exactly wrong. Jesus says, “if you’re not against me, you are for me.” Think about how radically different that is.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.