Summary: Disciples of every age fail to get the point of what it means to serve and obey the crucified and risen Lord.
20th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 24] October 18, 2009 “Series B”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we live in a competitive, achievement oriented society, that honors the person who succeeds in elbowing his or her way to the top. Yet through your Son, Jesus the Christ, leadership was modeled with a basin and a towel, faithfulness was demonstrated in suffering service, and your forgiving grace was revealed in sacrifice upon a cross. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to follow our Lord’s example, serve those in need, and witness to your saving grace in faithful discipleship. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
Mark certainly has a strange way of portraying what it means to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. Three times Jesus has told his closest, hand picked disciples that they were going to Jerusalem. Three times Jesus has told them that when they reached Jerusalem, he would suffer for their redemption, be put to death by the religious leaders, and on the third day, rise again.
And how did these had picked, closest disciples react to what Jesus told them? In chapter eight, following the first time Jesus told them about the fate that lie ahead for him in Jerusalem, Peter, who just acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, pulls Jesus aside and rebukes him for having such thoughts. Can you imagine such arrogance, to presume to tell the Son of God that he is wrong?
Then in the ninth chapter, Mark tells us that Jesus gain told his disciples that he “will be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days later he will rise again. But Mark tells us that even though Jesus told the disciples this plainly, that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying, and that they were afraid to ask him to explain it to them. Instead, they seized the opportunity to argue amongst themselves as to who was the greatest disciple.
And in the verses that immediately precede our Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus again takes the twelve aside and makes the same prediction. “See, we are going up 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; who will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him and kill him, and after three days he will rise again.”
And what was the reaction of these hand picked faithful disciples? Mark tells us that James and John, the sons of Zebedee came up to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus responded, and what is it you want me to do for you?” And what they want, it turns out, is for Jesus to appoint them to the top-ranking cabinet appointments. When Jesus ushers in the kingdom of God, they want to sit as close to Jesus as they can.
What an example of crassness these disciples display. What an example
gross ambition on their part, even though they may have considered it warranted. As Barbara Brown Taylor points out in her commentary on our text, “After all, they had been his chief assistants from the start. Along with Peter, they were Jesus’ closest friends, the ones he takes with him when he leaves the others at home. And they seem willing to do whatever it takes to earn those top seats in the cabinet – to drink the cup that Jesus will drink, and to be baptized with his baptism.” End quote.
Just what is it that Mark is trying to tell us by recording these reactions of his closest disciples to his predictions of his coming passion? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is that fact that these disciples really did not understand what Jesus was saying. Their understanding of the Messiah, or the Christ, was that he would lead a revolt against Rome, the occupying forces, and reestablish the sovereignty of Israel in the world. The disciples seem to believe that the new kingdom would be set up just like the old kingdom – only with new leadership in place.
To this point, Dr. Brown’s thoughts are right on target. Their request betrays their thoughts. The bag guys currently at the head table will be removed, their chairs fumigated, and God’s new crew would be seated, with Jesus in the number one position and his most loyal members of this staff on either side of him. Once this change has been accomplished – then finally – the good people will commence to redeem the world from top to bottom.