Every so often, the same theme will get repeated in the context of my faith life and my work life. This post is about when “Sunday” thoughts leaks into “Monday” thoughts.
Yesterday’s sermon passage was Mark 10:35-45.
In case you need the Cliff’s Notes version, it’s where James and John (possibly prompted by their mom) ask Jesus for the primo real estate at his left and right after he comes into power.
It was interesting, because it made me think immediately of the big tech nerd “news” item from Friday.
Obama’s “Tech Dinner” and the gossipy speculation on the meaning implied by who sat where (Apple’s Steve Jobs and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg on either side of the President); and who was missing from the guest list altogether (Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer).
Clearly, in two thousand years, we still haven’t advanced past arguing over who gets the “seat of honor” and who is left at the kiddie table.
As it happens, I had just studied this same passage a few weeks ago as part of the gospel counseling training I’m receiving. That particular lesson compared the request of the “Sons of Thunder” [aside: the redneck in me loves that two disciples had professional wrestler/personal injury lawyer names] with the request of Blind Bartimaeus that appears in the very next passage.
In both stories, someone comes to Jesus with a request, and he responds with “What do you want me to do for you?”
There is a theme of “not seeing” in both stories. In the first one, James and John don’t clearly see what it is they’re promising and asking. In the latter one, the blindness is literal and physical.
But the difference is that Bartimaeus’ desire was to see the world clearly; James and John’s request was about being seen. They wanted a place of prominence. They may have stopped short of asking to be the very center of attention, but they did ask to be as close to that center as possible.
I think it’s natural to seek attention. From the time we’re babies, we learn that we aren’t capable of getting everything we need on our own. To get what we need from others, we cry, scream, whine or beg to get their attention. As adults, we are still interdependent. The American myth of the “self-made man” notwithstanding, nobody gets through life alone. We need the attention of others.
We also need the attention of others in order to warn them of impending danger (but if Irwin Allen has taught us anything, if a major catastrophic disaster is involved, no one will listen anyway.)
That said, we live in a fallen world that has taken the natural desire for attention and twisted it beyond all reasonable scope. Believe me, I spend an extraordinary amount of my working life attempting to beg, borrow, steal or buy attention for my clients in the form of impressions, pageviews, fans, followers and subscribers.
If the attention economy didn’t have literal monetary value, I’d be out of a job PDQ.
But Jesus’ teachings insist that chasing after attention, prestige and clout (or Klout) is not the way to true greatness. That’s a much harder path, paved with patience, compassion, sacrifice, humility and service.
If you’re walking that path daily, seating arrangements are not of particular importance.