Mark 10:35-45This episode of the church's year of grace will conclude at the end of November. We're still in the gospel according to St. Mark. Next week we'll take sort of a break for Reformation Sunday (note: I found out that next week we'll be hearing from Mark's gospel rather than from John's classic Truth Will Make You Free Reformation gospel reading, but the other scriptures will be Reformation standards Psalm 46, Jeremiah 31, and Romans 3.) Reformation 501 won't be as much of an interruption as it also will remind us of God's faithful, merciful presence and ongoing reconciliation of all creation by grace rather than by human initiative and effort.
35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." 36And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" 37And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." 38But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" 39They replied, "We are able." Then 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; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
During the following Sundays Jesus will confront the religious leaders and authorities and affirm following the commandments brings a person close to the reign of heaven/ kingdom of God; Jesus will deplore the dehumanizing economic violence of the religious temple system that has demanded an impoverished widow's last shekel; this year will end on Reign of Christ / Christ the King Sunday with the account in John's gospel of Jesus' trial, conviction, death, and burial—and the declaration of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth as King, Ruler, Sovereign.
Jesus' first act of public ministry after his baptism and triple temptation in the wilderness in Mark's gospel? Driving out (exorcising) a demon from a possessed guy during a synagogue service. Looking at Mark's broad sweep and trajectory, we find freedom or release from everything that binds, enslaves, dehumanizes, kills us. That includes institutions, organizations, governments, structures of all kinds that become so literally tied up in their functional details they deal in death rather than life. Mark especially brings us an apocalyptic revealing or uncovering of God's upside-down reign of life—the New Creation in the wake of the death of the Old Creation.
We discussed how humans and entities like churches, schools, workplaces need structure, but those structures need to function for the sake of the lives of the individuals and entities they serve, not for their own sake. Examples: LCM's church council; LA's county and city governments; a denomination's regional judicatory and national governing headquarters.
James and John Zebedee's request to Jesus may be outrageous and arrogant, but I'll cite a class member's observation a couple weeks ago that Jesus and his followers had such a high level of trust and intimacy they knew they could say anything to each other and wouldn't get un-friended. In Mark 10:39 James and John insist they are able to do whatever Jesus leads them to, so (1)does that mean they implicitly trust Jesus, or (2)does it mean they still don't realize Jesus is on the way to his trial, conviction, crucifixion, death, burial? And resurrection?
Like most humans, they always default to theology of glory that Jesus always refutes with theology of the cross; again, Jesus describes the shape and the reality of the reign of heaven on earth as absolutely the opposite of what most humans aspire to.
Baptism reference is a bit obscure. It may be about John the Baptist's water baptism of repentance and forgiveness; it may be about immersion in the way of Jesus (per the Apostle Paul's comprehensive meaning in Romans 6); same with "cup" that may be one's life purpose, calling, goal, or destiny. In any case, this section of scripture happens after Jesus' third passion prediction in Mark's gospel.
Moving from a small micro level to a large macro level:
• Last week for Pentecost 21 we read about Jesus' micro encounter with a guy who had a lot of money and a lot of stuff—Luke's and Rembrandt's Rich Young Ruler, though among Matthew, Mark, and Luke that all include a version of this story, we don't know his actual social identity. Last week we heard Jesus call the guy beyond rote obedience to the commandments to fully living the commandments by divesting himself of money and property he didn't really need in order to help people in need, or simply his neighbors who had less than he did. "Neighborology." This is the only place in Mark's gospel that tells about Jesus loving an individual person; the word for love is the divine agape love.
• This week for Pentecost 22 our text brings us to an overarching macro level with Jesus telling us with servant and slave language he will ransom (release, free, in a similar manner to releasing or freeing a slave or bondservant) society and all creation from structures and systems that dehumanize and kill rather than give life—what the letter to the Colossians calls "powers and principalities."