James and John were sons of Zebedee.
Fishermen by trade.
They were used to jockeying for position to get the prime fishing spots before their rivals did.
Their nickname, given by Jesus, seems to indicate they could get down right feisty if they felt threatened. “Boanerges”, he called them. “Sons of thunder”.
These “thunderboys” found some kind of favor with Jesus. He called them to be his disciples. Jesus didn’t just call anyone. He must have seen something special in them.
Not only did Jesus see something in them, they must have seen something special in him.
And it couldn’t have been easy for the thunderboys to leave the fishermen’s life. The smell of the salt water, the feel of the sea breeze at daybreak, the sound of the water as it lapped at the sides of their wooden boat. They wouldn’t give that up for just anyone. But the call of Jesus was irresistible.
So they followed.
It was Mark’s gospel (Mark 10: 35-45) that caught my attention most recently. It’s the occasion where James and John request the honor of being seated next to Jesus when he is glorified.
Just like fishermen to jockey for position ahead of the others.
Fact is, the other disciples got worked up over the situation and it seems like maybe they would kind of liked to have had the place of honor for themselves. James and John just beat them to it.
Being the leader he is, Jesus sees a teachable moment. He straightens them all out by pointing out how wrong-headed they all are about what it means to be intimate with Jesus. It has nothing to do with seating arrangements. He tells them that their perspective was becoming a lot like the rulers of the Gentiles. In the empire, the seating arrangement was a status symbol. If you are seated next to the emperor, you are big stuff.
Jesus gets this straightened out in a hurry. He says, if you want to be somebody in the Kingdom, it comes by being a servant, not by your row, section and seat number.
“You want to be close with me?”, Jesus asks. “Then be a servant.”
“You want to have a lot in common with me?”, he asks. “Then be a servant, because that’s who I’ve been with you all along.”
“Now if you want to live in the empire and live by empire rules, you just go ahead.”
“But if it’s a Kingdom place you are after, be a servant.”
And that day the “thunderboys” learned a lesson they would never forget.
John, as I understand it, lived a long time after. Legend has it that when he was an old man, he had long given up the ways of jockeying for position. He didn’t talk about how close we was to Jesus. He just referred to himself as the disciple who Jesus loved.
And that was enough. That was more than enough.