You might not immediately recognise the title The Flower Duet by Leo Delibes. However, if I was to say “The World’s Favourite Airline” you might just connect it with some of those iconic British Airways’ adverts of the nineties and the first decade or so of the 2000s. For many of us the catchy music caught us, even if we had little idea of its origins.
After about twenty years, BA replaced its advertising with the words on its coat of arms: To fly. To serve. A promise to get you airborne and then look after you at thirty-nine thousand feet. Not bad objectives for a company specialising in international air travel.
In Matthew 20.20-28, we find a story of a family who really wanted to “fly”. The mother of James and John tried to secure top positions for her boys in the kingdom that Jesus was bringing about. The passage indicates that James and John were quite comfortable with their mother’s ambition and, it would seem, prepared for the price tag that Jesus appeared to attach to the kind of honour they were after. Perhaps chasing a good deal and trying to improve yourself was a way of life for them. They had, after all, been in the fishing business with their father before they had begun to follow Jesus, so “go-getting” was most likely a way of life for them.
You might expect Jesus to shoot down not only their preposterous request, but also to question their motivation and morality in the first place. Whilst He does knock back their desire to sit at His right hand and left hand, He doesn’t dismiss their desire for greatness. Instead, He gathers all His disciples around Him and sets out servanthood as the path to true greatness.
I think that sometimes we make a huge mistake when we think that following Jesus means that we try to remove all of our ambition, all of our drive. Jesus wants to take our ambition, vision and drive and, like He did with James and John, channel them into servanthood.Real progress, real discipleship happens when our ideas and ambitions intersect with the way of Jesus and we begin to walk the path of servanthood.
James would later lose his life for his faith. John would experience imprisonment on the isle of Patmos. To follow Jesus to the end you need the kind of drive that these former fishing business proprietors had and you also need an enormous capacity for servanthood. In BA terms, you need to fly and to serve.
Jesus doesn’t want to remove every trace of ambition you ever had. Instead, He wants to get hold of you and channel that drive into serving others and serving His cause. Serving without flying ends up in servility. Flying without serving is spiritual kamikaze. But when you pursue both, you set yourself on the flightpath to true greatness.