After the confession of Peter about Jesus in the gospel of Mark (8:27f), what follows is a series of revelation and clarification of who really Jesus is and what it means to be his disciple. In the episode where James and John express their ambitions (10:35-45), Jesus declares in the most direct and unequivocal teaching about the true exercise of authority.
The phrase ‘lord it over’ (v42) ‘katakurieou’ (κατακυριεύω), is a combination of the familar word ‘lord’ (kyrios) and preposition (kata), a term the apostles can easily identified with because of their experience in the first-century Palestine under the Roman rule, they, being subjected to an overwhelming and unlimited imperial power. This idea of leadeship as the exercise of raw power is further emphasized with the other terms in the same verse like- ‘their great ones’, ‘megaloi’, (from where the English word megalomania comes) and the verb implying the wielding of authority (exousia).
That worldly kind of authority and power is what the apostles, not only the ambitious brothers, are aspiring for (cf v41; 9:33ff). But Jesus taught them that they should resemble two figures well known in the Palestinian and Hellenistic world: the servant (diakonos), those who waited on table and performed domestic duties and the slave (doulos) an even lower rank who is subservient to all (vv43-44). And Jesus was all that- he came ‘in the form of slave’ (Phil 2:7) and he washed the apostles’ feet (John 13:1,11), a dedication of service to humankind which carried him to death as a ransom for many (v45). Truly he is the Suffering Servant of Yahweh (Is 53:10-12; 63:4), and our high priest who can symphatize with us (Heb 4:14-16).
The history of people and nations has been badly scarred by power-seeking, careerism, and manipulation at the service of ambition. We should look back to Jesus who presented to us his life of service, which included sufferings and death itself, as the model of authentic Christian authority. It is diametrically opposed to any form of “power” government. For true Christian leaders take last place in the community in their willingness to serve, suffer and even offer their own lives. May we all be able to imitate Jesus, especially those who are vested with responsibilities in leading the people both in the secular and sacred institutions. Amen