The Request of James and John
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Service as the Mark of the Kingdom
Roman culture was strictly hierarchical in ancient times. People were divided quite rigidly into classes. There was the Roman Senate at the very top, but just under that was the Equestrian class. These were people of great wealth and power. You belonged to this class if you were prominent enough to receive a horse out of public funds.

Beneath that was the Decurion class. These people were still wealthy, but not as wealthy as the Equestrians; however, they had some power in local government. Beneath that were the Citizens. They had less wealth, but had some rights as Romans. Paul, as you may remember, was a Roman Citizen. Below that were those who were called ?Free people.? These were people who had been Slaves, but somewhere along the line had acquired enough resources to buy their freedom. They were still not Citizens. Slaves occupied the lowest rung on the ladder.

Everything in their society reinforced this kind of caste system. Clothes showed what class you were in. I know that in our culture, it's hard to imagine a culture where clothes reflect someone's status, but in that culture they did. ''That was a joke. Not a very funny joke apparently . . ..'' In ancient Rome, only Citizens were allowed to wear a toga. The Decurions and Equestrians could wear stripes on their togas to show their status. If you were a slave, you wore a tunic¨you didn't get to wear a toga¨just as a reminder that this was your class.

Much of Roman life was arranged around Guilds that had wealthy patrons from the Equestrian class. The guilds frequently held festivals. If you went to a meal at a festival, the Equestrian class was served first, and after that, the Decurion class. Of course, the best food went first. Next the Citizens would be fed, and then Free people would be fed. If you were a Slave, and if there were anything left, you would get the dregs. That's the way that it worked. That was life.

But there was a new community, and they said to themselves: Jesus didn't really deal with people like that. Jesus said that He, the Son of Man:

  • Came not to be served but to serve and to give His life a ransom for all. ''Mark 10:45''

    So, you're a Slave, and you go into a house where the church gathers, and an Equestrian kneels down and serves you food. You start to cry. You're a Slave. You've never been served your whole life long, and now you're being served by an Equestrian. You're getting the best food. You look in his eyes, and you're weeping; and he's weeping, because he's never experienced the bond of common humanity or serving someone. There's never been a community like this! Jesus has gone on the road. Nobody's ever seen anything like this before.

    By: John Ortberg
    Category: The Request of James and John
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    The Request of James and John

    James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came near to him, saying, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we will ask."
    He said to them, "What do you want me to do for you?"
    They said to him, "Grant to us that we may sit, one at your right hand, and one at your left hand, in your glory."
    But Jesus said to them, "You don't know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?"
    They said to him, "We are able."
    Jesus said to them, "You shall indeed drink the cup that I drink, and you shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit at my right hand and at my left hand is not mine to give, but for whom it has been prepared."
    When the ten heard it, they began to be indignant towards James and John.
    Jesus summoned them, and said to them, "You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

    Mark 10:35-45
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