What Is All This Doing to You?

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35).

Been to the grocery store lately?

Most of my trips haven’t been too bad. The things we really need we’ve usually been able to find. But here and there you’ll see evidence that the I’m-gonna-get-mine mentality is alive and well here in Bethlehem, PA. Most notably you’ll likely see it in the aisle that typically holds household paper products. Last I looked, those shelves were absolutely bare, a long metal carcass picked clean by a host of buzzards.

Sadly, I discovered in one place that the peanut butter shelf was likewise bereft of that delicious goodness I deem essential for life on this planet. Luckily, I made one more stop and found what I was looking for, sitting there like manna from heaven straight from the hand of God.

When we see a sign posted on a shelf telling shoppers that there’s a limit on how much of a product they can purchase at one time, we know that it’s there because many of us won’t be content with one or two of this or that. The store is attempting to impose a limit that we won’t impose on ourselves.

These days seem to bring out the grasping, clutching, no-one’s-gonna-stop-me tendencies that sit buried somewhere in all of us. But that’s nothing new. Human beings have long been this way.

The story of James and John bears this out.

Can You Drink the Cup?                              

A couple of days ago we saw James and John bring their brash request to Jesus. They want the best seats when the glory days arrive, right and left of the rock-star Jesus.

They’re not the least bit hesitant about looking out for themselves. They know what they want and they’re going after it. They’ll get theirs. Their buddies can fend for themselves, thank you very much.

There’s a telling moment in this story when the other ten disciples get wind of what James and John have done. Their maneuvering had somehow managed to get back to the rest of the guys, and this didn’t go over so well. Mark’s narrative is understated: “They became indignant” (Mark 10:41).

This might be reading too much into the text, but it seems likely that this indignation is rooted in jealousy or envy. They want the same thing – position and privilege – and they’re bitter that they didn’t make the first move to get it.

What’s especially noteworthy about this moment is the way the story is colored when we turn our eyes to what in fact became of these followers of Jesus. For today, I’m staying focused on James.

Years passed. This self-seeking request became a memory, maybe even an embarrassment to James. Jesus would be crucified, raised from the dead, and ascend to heaven. The community of Jesus-followers would begin to grow dramatically, and a persecution would be leveled against it.

And then in Acts 12:2 we read that King Herod “had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.” No details. No story. Just the plain fact of his execution.

Jesus had asked James, “Can you drink the cup I drink?”

James had answered that he could. Jesus responded that James would.

And so it was.

What Happened to James?

I cannot help but wonder and marvel at what happened to James.

How did he move from being the glory-grabbing, self-seeking, position-jockeying follower of Jesus, to being one of the first martyrs of the early Christian community?

The man who wanted a seat of privilege next to a celebrity found himself in a jail cell and was eventually executed. Those don’t look like the same man to me. Something happened. Something changed. What was it?

The simple fact is, the Bible doesn’t tell us

All we know, based on what we see in the pages of scripture, is that the man who once came to Jesus to see what he could get became a man who loved Jesus enough to give up everything.

And that leads me to this question today: Who am I becoming? Who are you becoming?

Not long ago I heard John Mark Comer, a pastor in Portland, observe that all people are in the process of being spiritually formed. Whether they are religious or not, all people are becoming something or someone. Some practices such as prayer and scripture and solitude are aimed at intentional spiritual formation. But we are also formed by the culture we live in and the experiences that mark our lives.

In these anxious days, what is all of this doing to you? Who are you becoming?

Always Becoming

For some, these days may serve to drive them deeper into fear and anxiety. They’ll feed their soul and mind with constant cable news and do whatever it takes to secure their own well-being. This strange season will push them to grasp and clutch and guard.

Others will exercise good care of themselves and their neighbors while discovering new depths of prayer, a new level of trust, a peace and surrender to the care of God.

Most of us are probably somewhere between those, sometimes moving in one direction, sometimes the opposite.

A day will come when our exile is over. We’ll get back to life (I hesitate to use the word ‘normal’). But things will be different. Our country may be different. Our cultural habits and practices may be different.

And we may be different too. Changed. But how?

Perhaps that remains to be seen. But I’m praying that those of us who follow Jesus will become – and are becoming even now – people who look more like him.


Gracious God, in these days be at work by your Spirit to make me more like your son Jesus. Help your people to become who you have called us to be, grasping less, giving more, open handed in confident trust, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

One thought on “What Is All This Doing to You?

  1. Thank you, Pastor Mark, for these wise and insightful words.  I look forward to your devotionals with eager anticipation. Hope you FOUR are well!Love, Betsy 

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android


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