OCTOBER 21ST, 2018: TWENTY-NINTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The LORD was pleased
to crush him in infirmity.
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Brothers and sisters:
Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens,
Jesus, the Son of God,
let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink, you will drink,
and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;
but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Finally, Mark’s third prediction/misunderstanding/clarification passage.
This time James and John are given the honor of completely misunderstanding Jesus’ insistence on dying and rising with him. Their request isn’t complicated: “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” They simply lust after prominent places in the glorified Jesus’ kingdom.
We teachers learn in Education 101 never to tell a student, “You’re too dumb to even know what question to ask.” Yet that’s exactly how Jesus answers the overly-ambitious brothers. They’re clearly on the wrong road. They can’t get to where Jesus is unless they turn around and restart their faith journey.
The third way of dying with Jesus is the most difficult to achieve. It’ll turn our world upside down. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” I always remind my students that when the historical Jesus says these words, he lives in a culture in which real slaves exist. He’s not speaking metaphorically. Slaves are at least three or four steps below the social ladder.
He employs only one argument for such a drastic turnabout: himself. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He’s certain this upside-down lifestyle will bring life to his followers; it’s already brought life to him. A ransom is worth nothing in itself. Its value comes from the value of the person being ransomed. Should someone hold me for ransom, I presume he or she could get no more than a dollar fifty on a good day. Should they hold the pope, I’m certain they’d demand and get a few dollars more. Unbelievably, Jesus is telling us his value is determined not by his personal worth but by the value of the people he serves. He’s important only because they’re important.
As the author of Hebrew’s high priest, Jesus is to be praised not because God created him without sin, but because Jesus lowered himself to become one with us, in spite of our sins. Hard to explain to two brothers who only have their eyes focused on the glory seats.
In a similar way, the disciples of Deutero-Isaiah who composed the fourth song of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh are convinced their mentor provided them with an image of greatness most people would instantly reject. This unnamed prophet “justified many” through his infirmity and afflictions, not through his strength and victories. No wonder the earliest followers of Jesus frequently read Deutero-Isaiah’s four songs. It was akin to looking into the eyes of Jesus.
With all the words of Christian saints and heroes which adorn the walls of our churches I’ve yet to see seven that are at the heart of both the historical and risen Jesus’ faith: “It shall not be so among you!” Our gospels – along with all Scripture – weren’t written and saved in order to give people faith. They were composed to help people understand the faith they already had. That means, when someone picked up Mark’s scroll and began to read his third prediction/misunderstanding/clarification passage, they had already tried to die with Jesus. That experience alone set them apart from others around them. They look at reality through completely different eyes.
That’s why those seven words should always be emblazoned in a conspicuous place where Jesus’ followers gather. The temptation is always present for us to judge our actions against the value systems the world provides. If we cave in to those systems, we’ll never die enough to completely change the world in which we live.