Jesus called them to Him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord is over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:25-28)
The mother of James and John knew the potential of her sons. She wanted great things for them. Moms usually do. And what could be greater than to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left in the Kingdom? They couldn’t be the Chairman of the Board, but being His right hand men? – that’s the pinnacle! She didn’t know what she was asking. It’s not a matter of “uneasy is the head that wears the crown.” Leadership in the Kingdom of God is characterized not by exertion of power and dominion, but by humility and service. It is the Master who dons the towel and does the work of a slave. It is the King who lays His thorn-crowned head upon the wood of the cross in death for rebels.
James and John were thunderous boys; take charge, ambitious sort of guys. They had a penchant for brazenness (Luke 9:54). They were their mother’s sons. They would learn what true leadership was: James was beheaded for the sake of the Gospel (Acts 12:2), John was given to care for the Mother of our Lord as if she were his own (John 19:27). Humble service to others.
Your mother (and father) want great things for you. They know your potential. That’s one reason your in college. It’s one reason for the fraternity – it builds character and leadership. You are ambitious, too. Perhaps given, at times, to the brashness of the Sons of Thunder; seeking to control your friends and brothers. But it is our Brother in the flesh who shows us what real character is and what true leadership looks like: humble service. Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.
His life, death, and resurrection was your ransom. You are baptized with His baptism (Mark 10:38; Romans 6:3-4). He has made you His own, “that you may live under Him in His Kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteous, innocence and blessedness” (Martin Luther, The Small Catechism, Apostle’s Creed). He tells you what true leadership is: not domineering power-plays, but humble, self-sacrificing service to others. Doing nothing from selfish ambition, but humbly counting others more significant than yourself. Having the mind of Christ, which is yours by faith, and looking to the interests of others (Phil 2:3-5). True leadership is leading through servanthood; it is the way of Christ, the Suffering Servant, the daily denial of yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him, your Leader and Savior (Acts 5:31).