In February of 1968, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached his last sermon entitled: “The Drum Major Instinct.” Dr. King was assassinated two months later, on April 4th, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. His prophetic sermon highlighted the self-centeredness of our humanity; reminding and convicting not only the Ebenezer Baptist Church congregation (in Atlanta, Georgia) ; but, 21st century audiences, of our propensity to seek and secure the spotlight, celebrity, attention, praise, and drum major positioning; feeding the rapacious appetite of human need to be noticed.
Most of us will agree that the advancement of technology, social media , and obsession with self-promotion, name branding, and a tragic lack of concern for anyone but ourselves and our family, has fanned the flames of the drum major instinct in all of us.
In his most excellent sermon, Dr. King uses the Markan text, Chapter 10: 35-45, as he underscores the brothers, James and John, and their desire to be important in Jesus’ kingdom. For our study, we will look at the companion narrative in Matthew (20: 20-28); wherein the evangelist adds Salome, the mother of the “Sons of Thunder,” as the progenitor of her sons’ request. Matthew’s story adds an interesting dimension to the human proclivity to crave power, “shine,” spotlight, and celebrity.
In Matthew’s narrative, Salome pleads on behalf of her sons (possible Jesus’ first cousins), for the coveted positions of left and right on Jesus’ throne. As a mother who seeks fame, power, and fortune, not for herself; but, instead for her sons, a new aspect of the “drum major instinct,” is added by Matthew: “helicoptering motherhood.” Salome decides, by requesting a “favor” from Jesus, that her sons will be promoted to royal positions, which she believes they ultimately deserved. It reminds us that we all have stake in the “drum major instinct.” Perhaps, we don’t seek to be out front personally; but, we will pursue this territory for the ones which we love the best. (Dr. King’s “Drum Major Instinct” sermon is found on YouTube.)
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor…………………………………………………………(NASB translation – Matthew 20: 20-28)
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. And He said to her, “What do you wish?” She said to Him, “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.” He said to them, “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on my left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But, Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Many biblical scholars agree that this narrative in Matthew reflects the dimensions and dynamics of family. These same scholars posit (there is scholarly disagreement) that James and John were Jesus’ first cousins, connected through the sister relationship of Salome and Mary. This may explain why Salome has the audacity to request from Jesus royal positions for her sons – after all, “you take care of family first.” Isn’t this an adage we recognize as truth? We see it operating here, even in this ancient, biblical construct.
We are, however, considering this story, from the context of Dr. King’s sermon (“The Drum Major Instinct”). Dr. King reminds us that we all suffer from the same malady: “We begin early to ask life to put us first.” He goes on to observe: “When our name is in print, (it) is something of the vitamin A to our ego.” And, “Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don’t deserve it and even if they don’t believe it.” Dr. King makes it clear: This is everyone’s story and everyone’s challenge.
We understand, by reading the stories of the gospel accounts, that the 12 disciples were no different than the rest of us. Their motives were often blurred and confused. If Jesus was the man who would be King, then what was in it for them – fame, fortune, and power, or nothing at all?
And, what of Salome, this stage mother, who seeks out glory for her two boys from her nephew, Jesus? Salome, this helicopter mom, who decides to run interference, when her sons come to her and negotiate her assistance. Their self-centeredness and desire for the limelight is tossed to their mother, who is more than willing to catch the ball, then present their request as a “favor,” from her nephew. Her lack of self-control, the willingness to interfere and direct her grown sons’ business, and the quest to “see her sons’ names in lights,” is something we should recognize in ourselves, if we are entirely honest.
As Dr. King reminds us, this drum major instinct is destructive in ourselves and to those whom we decide to promote. As Jesus points us to all of His disciples, including James and John, we must curb this narcissistic tendency because it is the very opposite of what God requires of us. As followers of Christ, our mindset should be that of servanthood – seeking to serve one another, instead of promoting ourselves and our own self-indulgent agendas. Jesus teaches us the kingdom of God is not about “the self,” instead it is about community. The cost of discipleship is this: to be a willing servant for the Kingdom of God, and to follow Jesus’ example of obedience to His Father, even if it leads to the Cross. To be a willing servant to the call and example of Jesus, is how the Kingdom of God grows and how this world is changed. It should convict us to deny our need for leading the parade, and instead, following Jesus, as He leads us in serving God through serving others.
< Questions for our consideration
As Dr. King preaches his prophetic and last sermon, he requests something from those of us, who were/are inspired and moved by his leadership in the Civil Rights movement: He says: <strong>”I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.“ We know that ultimately Dr. King lost his life doing just this. His life teaches us that tragically, for those who are the prophets of God, and those who authentically answer God’s call, the cost of discipleship, may cost your life. In the month of February, as we celebrate Black History Month, we are reminded of so many of our ancestors who lost their lives serving the call of God, through serving humanity’s needs.
How does Dr. King’s sermon and our text, convict us to serve humanity instead of serving ourselves WITHOUT self-promotion, i.e., the drum major instinct?
Dr. King notes in his sermon that the desire to lead the parade, to be important, to surpass others, and to achieve distinction, is the dominant impulse of our humanity. How do we achieve success without succumbing to the “drum major instinct?”
Salome’s involvement in her sons’ request for fame was a major part of the Matthean narrative. How can we as mothers/parents/guardians/mentors, avoid this behavior, yet still encourage our loved ones?
Finally, think about the hours upon hours we spend in self-promotion (i.e, Facebook, Twitter, boasting to friends, etc.). How is this connected to the lack of community and service we see in this world? What can we do about it?
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)
“The best way to do ourselves good is to be doing good to others. The best way to gather is to scatter.” (Thomas Brooks)”
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination, full of hope.” Maya Angelou
“The enclosed materials are the property of Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters Bible Empowerment Series. They may be used by you with our permission, which may be revoked at any time. All copies of the materials must include the following notice: “This material is Copyright  Maxine E. Garrett and Tabitha’s Daughters, and is distributed with permission.”