Pride

Rev. Megan Huston
March 1, 2015

Mark 10:35-45
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”39They replied, “We are able.” Then 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;40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

On a beautiful June morning, I was driving down Smallhouse road, on my way to work. John and Debbie were both out of town and I was trying really hard not to mess things up while they were away, but some things had come up and I had some decisions to make. I didn’t want to call John and interrupt his vacation, but let’s just say things had become a bit stressful at the office. That is what I was thinking about when the officer pulled me over in the middle of morning traffic.

So, of course, I wasn’t thinking about the 30 mile per hour speed limit, but I immediately knew I was guilty when I saw the flashing lights in my rearview mirror. There are few good places to pull over on this narrow street, and so I swallowed my pride as the officer took his time writing my ticket while cars passed by their eyes glued on the unlucky sucker who was pulled over.

I saw on my ticket that I had a court date, and so of course, I attended, hoping that I might have my fine reduced and my record cleared. I went to the court house, and joined my fellow transgressors in the hallway to wait for the court room to open.

I immediately noticed that this was an interesting bunch. It did not appear to me that most of these people were there for speeding tickets- they looked like some bad dudes. My hopes of a quick interaction with the judge were dashed when we filed in and there appeared to be 50 or 75 of us there. They read names one by one and people would walk up to the judge and explain themselves. I sat in the back row reading Anne Lammot on my Kindle, trying to convince myself that I would not go to prison.

But my anxiety level increased significantly when officers came in from a side door escorting men wearing orange suits with their hands and feet in shackles. I thought to myself, “What have I done to get to this place?” And prayed my name would be called soon so I could go back to my safe office and my coveted title of pastor.
Finally they called my name, I got my reduced fine and my record cleared as long as I laid off the led foot for six months or so, and I got out of there as quickly as possible, thinking, dear God I will never speed again. Now, I set my cruise control on Smallhouse road. Because heaven forbid I end up in the middle of a room full of criminals again. Certainly, I am called to a better seating arrangement.

The Disciples had been called out for their bad behavior before their offense in the tenth chapter of Mark. “Three times now Jesus has told them, directly, what’s going to happen, that he is going to die, and each time, they react badly, seeming to miss the point entirely.”[1] Jesus is talking about total transformation, about the kingdom of God and the sometimes painful paths that will lead to it, and the disciples want to organize a seating chart.

It is kind of like when they wanted to send hungry people away in chapter six. “Surely there isn’t enough” they supposed. Or when they shooed away the small children just a few verses earlier because it simply wasn’t a children’s world. It was really a failure to comprehend the big picture which happened over and over again in their interactions with Jesus. The disciples were so caught up in the culture they lived in that they couldn’t imagine a world where everyone had enough and someone else’s success wouldn’t mean another person’s failure.

We often are so caught up in our culture that we can’t imagine a world where everyone has enough and someone else’s success won’t mean another person’s failure. It’s like we believe that someone has to make up that courtroom full of criminals and we don’t want it to be us. We have all been guilty of trying to reserve our seat at a better table.

I was at a conference once where one of my colleagues described himself as “the Richard Simmons of unhealthy churches.” Ministers are not often known for their humility. It is easy for us to become full of ourselves because there is a group of people who actually listens to what we have to say week after week, or at least so we think.

Pride is sort of a mixed bag, though. There are gender dynamics that go with this sin, Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook explains in her book Lean In proves through research that women who talk about their success are actually less likable and men who talk about their success are more likeable both by their peers and their employers.

I think our little girls are learning at a young age to undersell themselves, and possibly more damaging our little boys are learning that a key to their success is to actually oversell themselves and that their worth is measured by their accomplishments. So pride is instilled in our culture as a virtue for men and a vice for women. But which is it?

It seems that the disciples’ errors in judgment often revolved around an inability to comprehend the kind of kingdom that Jesus was calling them to. And if we are to explore our own vices, I think this may be the framework we need. Like our ego issues are not about our failure to understand who we are and what we can do, but maybe they are about our failure to understand who God is and what God can do.

When we struggle to position ourselves on top, we can become involved in a game of musical chairs that never stops, as Barbara Brown Taylor describes. Our pride takes over when we think that we are in charge, when we assume that we have all the answers, and even when we doubt if we are enough. The issue isn’t what we can do, the issue is doubt in what God can do.

Journeying with Jesus to the cross means reorienting our lives toward the kingdom of God. Sure we will mess it up, over and over again, but there will be moments when we get it right. And when we live as if we are a part of God’s kingdom, we learn that there is enough, that we need each other, and that our value as children of God is immeasurable.

[1] Kathryn Matthews Huey



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