You may remember “The Class Sketch” from the Frost Report, the popular satirical BBC television series in the 1960s. It featured John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett. The three men stood in a row; John Cleese the tallest on one end, Ronnie Barker – of medium height in the middle, and Ronnie Corbett, the smallest on the other end. The script went as follows:
Cleese: I look down on him (Barker)because I am upper-class.
Barker: I look up to him (Cleese) because he is upper-class; but I look down on him (Corbett) because he is lower-class. I am middle-class.
Corbett: I know my place. I look up to them both. But I don’t look up to him (Barker) as much as I look up to him (Cleese).
Hopefully, attitudes have changed since then but I suspect that in many areas of life, the church included, we still love hierarchical systems in which we look up to some people and look down on others.
James and John, two of Jesus’ disciples, say to Jesus: “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory”. Mark 10.37.
They’re asking for the places of honour beside Jesus when he is recognised as Messiah. Their image of the Messiah is of a powerful and victorious conqueror of the Romans. Repeatedly, however, in the second half of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tries to show his disciples that his journey to Jerusalem will culminate in his death and resurrection and that his way is one of service and suffering. In contrast to James’ and John’s image of themselves on each side of Jesus in glory, Jesus will be lifted up on a cross with two robbers hanging each side of him. This will be his “glory” by which humanity will be redeemed.
Jesus’ model of service is passed on to us who are called to be his disciples today. Each one of us has gifts and vulnerabilities which are a vital part of God’s church on earth. Let’s pray that we don’t see them as opportunities for power or hierarchy in which we look up or down on others (or know our place!) but rather that we follow the way of service that frees both us and those whom we serve to be our true selves.