On the way to Jerusalem ….
In Matthew 20:17 .. Jesus sets his disciples down just off to the side of the road and with great detail tells them what is about to happen to him in the city. Mocking, torture and crucifixion. Shortly thereafter the mother of the Zebedee brothers approaches Jesus with a request to promote her boys to the highest ranking office in his coming kingdom.
It would be like me walking up to my children and saying: I’m on Fire ! and there response being : What are you making me for lunch ?
This is a very clear picture for much of the disguised human condition. Its insanity and by definition an unknown condition to those infected with the disease.
As all the disciples grapple for position, it’s clear that this seems completely normal to them. It’s the world they live in.
In our own culture today, we give tribute to selflessness and sacrifice in books and movies and give out awards of all kinds for extraordinarily unselfish behavior. But somehow this unselfish characteristic seems like it’s for some of those ” special” people. The talented, generous and gifted. But not for me. I don’t think i’m alone in feeling this way. In this picture the power of self importance was able to rise up right in the middle of a close friends disclosure of eminent and immediate mortality.
Jesus is not surprised. He tells them they don’t know what they are asking for…. referring to the specific honor they are requesting. He then moves forward quickly to show them the contrasting perspective.
For me, this is the ah hah moment : It’s crucial that we see ourselves in a “real” light. As painful as that is. Awareness of our own reality is the first step toward sanity. It destroys our pride and breaks our heart and …. we avoid this at nearly all cost.
Jesus has to resort to reminding them of the way godless rulers misuse power and how quickly even the smallest amount of power goes to their heads. ( as true today as then ) He has to teach them using these examples because he knows that they cannot be confronted directly for their own craving for importance. Direct confrontation results in defensiveness and nearly always ends in relational damage of some kind. The disciples are left to come to their life altering conclusions with a picture of correct Godly characteristics to be exhibited in Kingdom life. This is extremely patient. This is a beautifully painted picture, and Jesus is the artist. God’s way : Become a servant.
When I look at how I fit into this story, I am a bit shaken. I have had a history of service orientation, especially as it relates to organized church. There is a paradox here. I was serving out of impaired motives and yet it was in the midst of serving that I was in contact with other Christ followers that had begun their own journeys out of self centeredness. In recent years I have come to understand even more that my motives were far from selfless. Sparing everyone the details of my painful childhood I can safely jump forward to confessing that I had become a self-important, type A driver, image manager with all the baggage that comes in tow with it. I am pretty sure I was unaware of my condition and was able to defend my position fiercely. Not unlike the bros Zebedee and the other disciples.
As awareness of my “condition” grew I experienced a good deal of fear and internal pressure. If I give up my need to feel important, what will be left? What if my own broken soul hates feeling small and insignificant. My identity was completely wrapped up in my need to be important and my self perception of superiority. The “condition” was given a name when I read a book by Brennan Manning called: Abba’s Child. He called it ” The Imposter”. When I read of Brennan’s coming aware, it was like l was reading my own life story.
The bros Zebedee made their move, the other guys were furious.. they proclaimed .. “line jumpers”! They cut in line.. with their Momma’s help. They asked “the boss over to dinner”… fill in the blank.. ______________.. foul play …
Serving was a powerful mechanism I used to make myself feel important. It worked pretty well in many ways but had very costly consequences on a lot of relationships. Now I am more “motive-aware” but its a fight. Without self-importance as a motivator I have to ask the real question. What does God want me to do? This question presumes that I have a close enough relationship to ask the question and hear the answer. This has become of prime importance to me. Is this not what Jesus was talking about when He said : “Man shall not live by bread alone.. but by every word that is spoken by God!” Wether it be the written word or the word of God whispered to your heart. Jesus said: “I only say what the Father tells me to say and I only do what the Father tells me to do.” Obedience is an act of love and a throttle control. There is plenty of work to do and lots of instruction about what that work looks like, see Matthew 25. But it appears to me the intimate relationship with God has to come first.. and foremost. Jesus modeled this behavior as well as taught about it. He would regularly leave all human relationships and service opportunities behind and go off to be with God by himself. In solitude. Jesus also stressed knowing the scriptures. It’s a spirit lead life we are to lead. Hearing and doing what the Father says. The answer and antidote for self-importance becomes awareness of who God says we are. We are His children. We are loved, even in our present self centered state.
This can sound kinda mystical .. “Hearing from God ” but its what what we are called too. I think it starts with those prayers in the closet Jesus talked about. In front of no one, serving no one. Just communing with God. I think it’s there where we learn to hear His voice and His true call to serve.
For me, I hear His voice say : “Love Me. Love yourself. Love the next person I put in front of you. Keep doing that”.