29th Sunday - 2018 Isaiah 53: 10-11; Hebrews 4: 14-16; Mark 10: 35-45.
In Chapters 8 and 9 of his gospel, Mark introduced us to the ways in which we are called to die and rise with Jesus in our daily lives. It follows a three-fold pattern of prediction of his passion, death and resurrection that Jesus will experience in Jerusalem. This is followed by misunderstanding, and is concluded with clarification. To-day we hear Mark's third, and most painful way in which we are to die with Jesus. In Chapter 8 it was Peter who had a problem with Jesus' prediction. The twelve apostles followed suite in Chapter 9. Here in Chapter 10, the honour goes to James and John. Totally missing Jesus' point about first dying and then rising, the brothers foolishly ask to be given the 'glory seats' when he comes into his glory. Their request isn't an appeal - it's a ridiculous ambition. Jesus initially puts them down, 'You do not know what you are asking'. They haven't understood him at all. Then with great patience he invites them to ask themselves if they are capable of sharing his painful fate.
But then, when the other ten 'become indignant' at the brothers' request, Jesus clarifies what dying with him actually entails. In the first prediction - misunderstanding - clarification, dying revolved around being open to whatever God asks of us. In the second, what was important was accepting the community's most insignificant members. Here in the third, Jesus takes our dying one step further - "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". In Jesus' ideal community, the people who serve others are more important than the people who are served.
This act is so serious that Jesus 'summons them' to make absolutely clear what attitude must always characterize his followers - you and me. Here we must remember that there were actual slaves during the historical Jesus' and Mark's day and age. What we regard to-day as symbolic or metaphorical language was looked upon quite differently 2000 years ago. Back then slaves were expected to give themselves totally over to their master. Also, those first Palestinian Christians knew only too well how the Romans - 'rulers of the people' - and the 'great ones' of the earth acted. They tyrannized people, made them submit - they made people feel the weight of their power. But Jesus was quite clear - 'It shall not be so among you'.
Among the followers of Jesus, everything is to be different. 'Who ever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all'.
Greatness is not to be measured by the power one has, the rank one occupies, or the titles one holds. Whoever covets these things in Jesus' community, doesn't make themselves greater - just more ridiculous and insignificant. And it is a hindrance to promoting the lifestyle desired by the Crucified Lord. In the Jesus Movement, we are all to be servants. We are to place and offer ourselves in the Christian community not on top, based on superiority, self-interest, power or prominence. We are called to place ourselves below, based on helpfulness, service and aid to others.
Our example is Jesus. he never lived 'to be served, but to serve'.This is the best and most admirable summary of what he was - service to all. And wouldn't it be great if each of our churches and presbyteries prominently displayed a banner reading, "It shall not be so among us".