It has to be one of the greatest comedic routines of all time. Bud Abbott and Lou Costello first performed it on a radio show, The Kate Smith Hour, in March 1938. Over the years, they would delight audiences with the famous descriptions of a baseball team: “Who’s on first?”
The rotund Costello would appear to be increasingly frustrated with his cool, calm partner as Abbott tried to explain the names of all the players. It was brilliant, funny theater.
In Mark 10, Jesus had to participate in a very different “Who’s on first?” dialogue. The author recorded that two of the disciples (who also were cousins of Jesus) approached Him and ask for special favor. In Matthew’s account, the mother of James and John (who was the sister of the mother of Jesus) made the same ask. “When You sit on Your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to You, one on Your right and the other on Your left” (v. 37).
Costello acted like he was frustrated in his act; Jesus didn’t have to act. He told the two, “You don’t know what you are asking!” The Lord had just announced for the third time that He would journey to Jerusalem to die. Did they not hear Him? As soon as Jesus made the statement, James and John requested privileged status. Insensitive, clueless?
In His response to their thoughtless question, Jesus explained a new order in His Kingdom: “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slaves of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give His life as a ransom for many” (vs. 43-45).
Humility was considered a vice, a sign of weakness until Jesus came. Read again Philippians 2:5-11, the ancient Christian hymn that describes the true power of love through humility and obedience. Revisit the scene in the Upper Room when Jesus washed the feet of His disciples (see John 13).
The Bible tells us that the other disciples were indignant when they heard what James and John did. Were they mad because they didn’t think of it first? They all seemed to be tone deaf at this point, but perhaps we should consider the price of pride in our own lives. According to Jesus, trying to be first might be the fastest way to the back of the line!