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Asking a Favor

Two summers ago Alissa and I were invited to spend the weekend with some friends in North Judson, Indiana! North Judson, IN’s claim to fame is that it is one of the nation's largest producers of mint. We were invited on this particular weekend because it was the annual mint festival. It was a truly impressive little festival for a town this size. The festivities, music, and food were great, and the people even better.

The thing that stuck with me when we left was the cooking competition. Right then and there I made a personal goal- something I take very seriously. I would return the following year and take the crown. I was no cook, but I had a secret weapon. Our friend Cari had won different divisions in years past and placed with two recipes this year. I asked Cari to be my cooking competition coach. Cari agreed to my request and the prestige was all but locked up. I had this daydream that I could be champion of the mint festival and despite my skill level shortcomings, I could forever claim to be an award winning chef.

Here we are right before holy week both on our calendar and according to Mark's Gospel and Jesus tells the disciples something truly amazing. He has repeatedly explained his death and resurrection. Here things are coming into view. Jesus is literally telling them that the promised head crushing of Satan that everyone had been talking about for centuries was going to come true and they were going to be there to see it. Amazing. The picture was coming into view and the disciples have been daydreaming not of the awe of God's fulfillment about to take place, but instead of the personal honor, the prestige of being the ones who walked along with the Savior of the world. They felt that they had earned something and should be rewarded.

So James and John get an idea. They go up to Jesus and do this real mature, “we’ve got a favor to ask but we want to know you’ll agree no matter what… right Jesus? Buddy old pal? Its us! James and John! Your besties!”

Jesus responds with a very noncommittal “What is it?” and they ask to be seated on either side of him in heaven. They were asking for power and influence over others eternally in Heaven. James and John we all caught up in the potential pride of the situation. They were just starting to understand what Jesus was all about and as soon as they got close, that sinful nature caught up and wondered, this is great but what’s in it for me?

The pastor part of me shakes my head at the idea that the disciples thought they could be highlighted for eternity alongside the work of Jesus. The human side of me, the one that wanted to win the cooking with mint competition, completely sees what they were trying to do. These men gave up their lives to follow Jesus. They had years invested. The logical human question is absolutely- where’s the payoff?

When we see someone put time in and not see the payoff we get concerned. Think about a sixth year college student or a person in a dating relationship for seven years. There isn’t anything exactly wrong with these things but our human nature doesn’t naturally do something for nothing and we always want to know: “what’s in it for us?”

Then this bleeds further into a first commandment issue. They were placing their angle for power ahead of God's promise fulfilled. Anytime we get carried away in our own pride, goals, or position in life without placing god first and asking him to lead we are in the same position as the disciples.

After James and John make this request, we see the other disciples get pretty upset. We are seeing the full spectrum of typical human selfish behavior. Now I would like to imagine that they were all upset wanting to help guide James and John to healthier choices, but I think it’s safe to say that the other disciples were simply grumbling because they didn’t think of it first. It’s like when you claim seats in the car as kids, as soon as someone calls shotgun, or front seat, everyone else sits in the back and stews on the fact that they didn't think to call it out sooner.

The biggest issue at play here is that these disciples were not grasping the gift that Jesus was earning for them, the payoff that was eternally theirs. They were failing to realize that a place in Heaven was prepared for them and the impending death of their friend would lead to the forgiveness of all of their sins and a path to that place of perfection. They either lost sight of this or they wanted more. Their human nature wanted to separate from everyone else and earn something greater. The human nature simply could not find peace in the gift that Jesus was describing.

The next summer, last summer that is, right before we moved here the time came for mint fest 2017. We went to North Judson and I consulted with my coach who recommended a recipe in my skill level- Peppermint Bark- three ingredients- even I could do it. I put it all together and now it was time to head for competition. I was shocked to learn that I had actually won!

Now I wore this ribbon around the fair like I was the world champion of all talent for the day. Like everything else in this world, the luster wore off and I moved on to other things. The truth is that everything in this world will pass away except Jesus. The only thing that we can cling to that will never fail us and will always matter is Jesus and the work he accomplished for us. The forgiveness of our sins, the restored relationship with our God, and life eternal with him.

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