We have the temptation to want to be in a place of power in relation to others. The disciples were in an interesting position, a seesaw between persecution and lording over others. As Jews, they were part of an occupied nation. The Jews could not determine their own political future. Indications would come down from Caesar in Rome and the local authorities would have to carry them out. As laymen within Jewish society (though John probably had at least some relation to the priests and Jewish authorities), they could not do too much to effect change even within the boundaries of their own religion. Now, all of a sudden, they are following someone who might be the Messiah. Their position lends them importance.
It is easy to get puffed up with their own importance. We know that it was James and John who wanted to bring down fire on the Samaritan village. They were overzealous, and perhaps too excited to try out their own powers received from God. They overstep their boundaries. Something that fascinates me about Jesus is that although he was a wonderworker, it was always for the good of those around him. He cures lepers, gives sight to the blind, and helps the lame to walk again. He even turns water into wine for a wedding party, but he never works a miracle for himself. The power that comes from God arrives so that we can serve others.
This passage is so important because it helps us realize that the gifts we receive from God are for others. St. John Paul II had a tremendous gift of speech and personal charisma. He used this to trot the globe and bring Christ’s message to millions of people. As his papacy went on, he himself suffered more and more physically. First, he had to survive the assassination attempt. Then, he struggled for years against the onset of Parkinson’s disease, which ultimately caused his demise.
Jesus rebukes them because he wants to make sure that they do not let the power go to their heads. What gifts have you received from God? Are you placing them at the service of others? What position of power do you occupy? Do you use your power for the good of others or to further your own agenda? Look at this with Christ and see if there is anything you need to change.