1 Corinthians 10:10-18
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, [Jesus] saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea— for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
In this account, Simon Peter and Andrew were the first two disciples Jesus invited to follow him; then, secondly, he called James and John. Reading this led me to recall the rest of the story of these four disciples with Jesus. Then I was reminded that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached about James and John in a famous sermon— a sermon which happens to be misquoted (in stone) at the King Memorial in Washington, D.C.. On February 4, 1968, two months before he was assassinated, Dr. King delivered this sermon at his home church, Ebenezer Baptist in Atlanta, entitled “The Drum Major Instinct.” You can read the entire sermon at
Dr. King began the sermon by reading the passage from Mark 10 where James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to [Jesus] and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”
And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you ?”
And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” (verses 35 – 37)
Here are two excerpts from the sermon that I would like us to consider now.
“Now very quickly, we would automatically condemn James and John, and we would say they were selfish. Why would they make such a selfish request? But before we condemn them too quickly, let us look calmly and honestly at ourselves, and we will discover that we too have those same basic desires for recognition, for importance. That same desire for attention, that same desire to be first. Of course, the other disciples got mad with James and John, and you could understand why, but we must understand that we have some of the same James and John qualities. And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct— a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.”
In the body of his sermon, Dr. King spoke about the many different ways that we humans desire to be Number One, during all phases of our lives. Then he explained Jesus’ reply to James and John:
“... Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important— wonderful. If you want to be recognized— wonderful. If you want to be great— wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That's a new definition of greatness....”
“If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize— that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards— that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.
“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.”