Summary: If we try to be great in some other way than by becoming a servant, we'll lose whatever greatness we achieve. Only by becoming a slave of all, will we achieve greatness in God's Kingdom. The result is a life of following Jesus along the road to the cross
I got a new pair of glasses this week. Not my everyday glasses. These are ones that are made so I can see what's on my computer screen without ending up with a cricked neck. They're fantastic. They make the characters on the screen look perfectly in focus. They just have one drawback. If I forget to change them over when I leave the office I can't see anything clearly unless it's right in front of me. It's not that I'm totally blind. It's just that I can't see clearly.
Of course being unable to see things clearly doesn't just apply to physical sight, does it? There's an even worse affliction of sight that some people suffer from. That's the sort of blurred vision that comes from prejudice or from unthinking acceptance of a particular set of presuppositions or perhaps from listening to too much talk back radio. For example it's the sort of blindness that might prevent us from understanding the various issues in the debate over asylum seekers. It's the sort of blindness that leads some people to suggest that the Churches have no right to speak out about social issues.
Well, both of these sorts of blindness appear in Mark chapter 10. There's physical blindness in the man, Bartimaeus, mixed with clear spiritual sight, and there's spiritual blindness on the part of the disciples and others we meet in this passage.
Let's look at the passage. (Mark 10:32-52) They're on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way. You can almost imagine Jesus striding on ahead, with the disciples a pace or two behind, and the other followers almost hanging back in fear. We're told that the disciples were amazed and those who followed were afraid. The disciples may have been wondering before this where he was going and now it's becoming clear. He's heading for Jerusalem. In fact this is the first mention in Mark of Jerusalem as his destination. So they're amazed. Why would he want to go to Jerusalem when he knows that's the centre of opposition to his mission? Obviously the disciples' sense of unease is transmitted to the crowd, because they're becoming afraid. You can imagine them not just hanging back, but perhaps dropping off, their ranks thinning as each step took them a little closer to the dangers of Jerusalem. It's all very well to be a fan but when the star goes somewhere dangerous the fans are often happy to watch from a safe distance.
But Jesus isn't worried by what his followers think. He knows what he's doing, so he takes his disciples aside once more and explains to them as clearly as he can what's going to happen. “Yes,” he says, “33We're going to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” If anything is going to surprise them, it shouldn't be his going to Jerusalem. Rather it's that the Son of Man should be betrayed by the religious leaders of the nation; that they should hand him over to Gentiles to be tortured and killed.
Here's the first example of blindness in the passage. The religious leaders are blind to who Jesus is. They should be able to see that he's the one predicted by the Old Testament prophets. Instead they've rejected him. Their blindness is compounded by the fact that they'll hand him over to the Gentiles, to whom also he's been sent. Listen to what Isaiah 49 says of the Messiah, the Servant of the Lord: (Is 49:5-6) “And now the LORD says-- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength -- 6he says: "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Here was the one who was sent to bring both the people of Israel and those of the Gentile nations back to God, being handed over to death at the hands of those very Gentiles.
But that of course was part of God's plan, wasn't it? Again, Is 53 speaks of the Servant of the Lord being despised and rejected, smitten, wounded, all for a good reason: to bring us peace and healing. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”