The Gospel According to Mark, Chapter 10
Perhaps the greatest sermon ever preached on Mark Chapter 10 was given by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on February 4, 1968. This sermon, "The Drum Major Instinct," (please listen to it here) masterfully expounds on not only Mark 10, but also a unique darkness that exists in each and every one of us.
James and John are walking with Jesus as they did almost every day during His ministry on earth. I've done a few group hikes in my life, and funny conversations and arguments can help pass the time on tedious parts of the trail. Jesus and his posse walked everywhere. I can imagine how boring it would be to be walking for hours a day, and can imagine how my mind would cook up bizarre theories and ideas as it looked for ways to keep itself occupied. James and John are walking with Jesus, and they ask Him an innocent enough question:
"Hey, when this is all done, can we sit on either side of your throne in Heaven?"
Dr. King's sermon identifies the single driving force behind human activity is the Drum Major Instinct. This instinct, this desire to be recognized, is the gas in our engines. We want people to think we are important, we want people to desire us, we want people to listen to us. Dr. King points out that our very first cries as infants were cries for attention and affection, and it never stops as old as we get. James and John were acting out of their Drum Major Instinct because all of us do. All of us want to be the greatest.
Jesus in one of the few instances where He gives specific instructions for living, tells His followers exactly what is needed to be first among them. Be last. If you want to be great you must be a servant to all. Using Himself as an example, as we all should, Jesus says He did not come into the world to be served, but to serve.
I'm not a nice person when I get stressed, cold, or hungry (or am in an airport). I become even more selfish and needy than I usually am. My selfishness is born out of my Drum Major Instinct to be served. I deserve speedy service and good food. I deserve recognition for the good things I do.
Our desire to be recognized, to be in the lead of the parade, isn't inherently evil. It is easily corrupted by our hearts, but is also something we can use for good. We can be drum majors for Love. We canbe drum majors for Hope. We can lead by serving. At the end of the sermon, Dr. King gives his hopes for what people would say about him when he dies.
"I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world."