The Standoff Between the Thirst for Power and the Thirst for Service (Mk 10:35-45)

by Gospels

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  He replied, “What do you wish me to do for you?” They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” 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; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:35-45

Bible Study

The desire for power has been nurtured in us since we were young. Who didn’t want to become King of Camelot or the Princess, imprisoned in a tower or sleeping in a forest, waiting for the Blue Prince? These fantasies seem to fade but, in reality, they always remain, buried underneath the embers,  and continue to secretly orient our decisions and our emotions.

Today’s education isn’t much help, neither are politics or institutions in general. Whether it be in traffic, with our colleagues at work, with our parish groups or in our quarrels at a Sunday game, all of it ends up being a race to gain advantage over the other in order to be #1.

As we grow, the way we look at others becomes more and more confused: they increasingly seem to be our adversaries, rivals or competition. Leaving aside the extreme cases of delirium in which life feeds off of the pleasure of making others suffer, we ordinarily live our lives as if they were an eternal competition. And we are left frustrated because we feel like we can never win. The thirst for power is a terrible thing because it becomes self-sustaining, leaving us more and more thirsty, tempting us with the illusion that the next sip will finally satiate us. But the wells of power are poisoned. Rather than quench our thirst, they exacerbate it. For this reason, there is no other option than to look for another source!

Even Jesus’ disciples back then, and still today, are thirsty for power: faced with Jesus’ words – words that reveal his anguish before the prospects of his death become more and more tangible – once again the disciples respond by projecting their future, worrying about who will take the master’s place when he is gone.

Christian Ferdinan, Germany

Every power vacuum, or the possibility of a power vacuum, initiates a race to see who can fill the spot. It is always a possible occasion for giving into one’s thirst for power.

James and John claim their privilege, perhaps because they were the first ones to be called by Jesus, or perhaps because want to flaunt their possible family-relationship with Jesus, or perhaps just because of their impetuous character, seeing that they were called the “sons of thunder”.

James and John aren’t intimidated by the conditions that Jesus evokes. They trust in their own strength. They are absolutely sure of their own capacity (They responded: “We can.”)

In fact, Jesus recalls two very provoking and, to a certain extent, violent images from the Old Testament: the chalice is not only a chalice of glory, rather a bitter chalice, one of God’s anger. It is an image that evokes revenge and death. It was not by chance that Jesus pronounces his blessings over the chalice during the last supper, that is, as a price that must be paid for the freedom of men who have been held as slaves by death. Jesus is the goel, that is, according to the Old Testament, he who frees, he who saves, he who pays the ransom.

So too baptism, literally meaning immersion, is not only a gesture of renovation of life; it is also an image of he who is swamped by the waters of evil yet who is freed precisely because he is immersed. Jesus is He who allows himself to be immersed in order to be swamped by the waters of our sin, those waters from which the Father will pull him out, showing him to be the victor over death.

If the glory of Christ is the cross, it is significant that we don’t find James and John to the right and to the left of Jesus, rather two sinners, the two thieves, two men condemned to death and executed. Next to Jesus, in his glory, sit those who have been condemned and excluded throughout history, all of those that we don’t consider worthy to be at his side. They sit next to Jesus because they haven’t earned it.

Our thirst finds peace when it is no longer a thirst for power, rather a thirst for service. [pullquote align=”right”]“Those who think their time is too precious to spend it listening to others will never really have time for God and their brother, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.” – Bonhoeffer[/pullquote] In fact, in the Bible, in addition to James and John’s thirst, we find another thirst: that of the deer that ardently desires the waters. This is perhaps because deer, according to an ancient tradition, would eat poisonous serpents to provoke their thirst. For this reason, in iconography, the deer became the symbol of the believer who, having fed himself with sinful poison, sought the waters of Christ.

In the Gospels, we also find the thirst of the Samaritan who is searching for a meaning in her life, a meaning that can satisfy her thirst for affection. Above all, however, it is a thirst for Jesus. Here, Jesus not only becomes like a beggar seeking for the alms of a few words and the friendship of an unknown and foreign woman but upon the cross, he confesses his thirst for the salvation of all men. And He continues to thirst, now in the lives of the little ones, the lowliest who just ask for a drink of fresh water. But sometimes I have the impression that in the name of our ideas, as the Church, we are tempted to even deny them that.

As long as we continue to drink from those wells poisoned by power, we will continue to experience the folly of that scorching thirst. Life often finds a meaning when it is spent for others or for something. Life becomes obsessive when it is concentrated on one’s own thirst. It’s not by chance that a man like Bonhoeffer, a Protestant pastor who was executed by the Nazis and who put the lives of others before his own could say: “Only he who lives for others lives responsibility, that is, lives.”

Questions for Personal Reflection

– What do you thirst for?

– How much influence does the search for power have in your life?

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