Jesus teaches service
Sermon preached by Charles Royden 20 October 2012
Ordinary 29 Year B
Mark 10 32-45 Jesus Predicts His Death a Third Time
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. “We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
The Request of James and John
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This week the lectionary misses out a few important verses at the beginning and so I have included them above and let me read to you what has just occurred. Jesus has for the third time told his disciples that he is going to Jerusalem to die. On the two previous occasions the disciples have made the wrong response. Do you remember that the first time Peter told Jesus this must not happen and Jesus called him ’Satan’!
Well on this occasion it is not that much better. No sooner has Jesus told them that he is going to Jerusalem to die than James and John ask him if they can have the best seats whne he takes power!
Now humanly speaking you can see how James and John get to this position. They are thinking that Jesus is going to go and take over and when he does then they will well placed to have some great jobs. This is how it goes with human institutions. If I was running for leadership, say for Prime Minister, then I would have a clear idea of how I would go about it. I would promise certain key positions to individuals I needed. I might need to promise these position to people who might otherwise challenge me for the leadership, but I would hope that they would be competent people in their own right. So it was that Tony Blair made a promise to Gordon Brown in an oyster bar and David Cameron, was it on the playing fields of Eton that he made a pact with George Osborne?
So it is little wonder that thinking things through from the position of James and John, they would be wondering who the powerful cabinet members were going to be. Who would get the Treasury, who would be Home Secretary? So from a human point of view their behaviour is to be expected, it is the norm, surely there would need to be some thought as to how the jobs would be divided. But of course Jesus has been trying to tell them that this was not how things were going to be.
For the past few Sundays we have heard Jesus saying how hard and different it is all going to be.
You won’t be able to join in if you have any money, it will be so hard for rich people that you might as well try and thread a camel through a needle!
Forget any ideas of self aggrandisement, if you want to be a part of the new way then you have to become vulnerable and weak like a child.
Most of all the leader is not going to be welcomed onto the world stage as a powerful new authority he will suffer and die
and - and this is the is real nail in the coffin, those who follow Jesus as leader must be prepared to lose their lives also.
The other ten disciples become indignant probably because James and John got in there first. These disciples were part of the inner three, they were especially close to Jesus, but they have got it all wrong. They still clung to the idea that there would be a restoration of the glorious kingdom which David ruled.
Jesus asks James and John’s a question:
"Can you drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
Jesus needs to get across to them that being a disciple is not about power and prestige. It’s not about the first places at table. It’s about following Jesus’ path to service, suffering and death. Both of these terms, "drinking the cup" and "baptism," were "images for death."
They assure Jesus that they are confident they can do whatever Jesus asks of them. When reality sets in, with his suffering and death, they will scatter. It will take their experience of the resurrected Jesus and his accompanying grace, to enable them to drink his cup and be baptized in his baptism. Thus, "later," they will accept the servanthood and sacrifice Jesus asks of his disciples.
James and John would surely have justified what they were asking as not being out of selfish ambition but because they would be good at it. They would make better rulers, but Jesus does not want to just play music chairs with those in power, putting new people in control. He wants to take away the chairs and show that that the people who really matters are the ones on their knees, serving. What Jesus brought was not a revolution in which one group stole power from another. It was not a leadership contest in which roles were simply exchanged. Jesus was about to completely change the nature of true power itself. From now on those who sought to obtain status must become servants. The followers of Christ must not seek the best seats at tables, they must deliberately choose the way of servanthood. They must follow the example of Christ and be those who took the towel to wash the feet of others.
So where are we in all of this - some lessons
1. We need to look closely at ourselves and examine our own willingness to accept the path which Jesus calls us to follow.
The truth is that we cannot be too hard on James and John because we all still fail miserably to be servants like Jesus. We are all way too ambitious for our selves in all sorts of ways. We do not give up our plans, our desires, our ambitions easily.
Have we responded with enthusiasm to what Jesus asks us to do, have we done so any better than James and John ? Are we prepared to set aside our own ambitions and expectations and consider what path Jesus would have us follow?
2. Do we make excuses of our own inadequacy ?
Is there some work which we feel God wants us to do but for which we have felt inadequate? There is clearly no need to feel inadequate for the task. When we look at those disciples and see
- how misguided they were,
- how ill suited for the purpose they were,
- how much they lacked even the basic ingredients,
and yet God used them.
If Jesus can use these ambitious self seeking individuals then he can use us ! We do this by allowing parts of ourselves to die, those part which are absorbed with self, Jesus called this a kind of being born again, as we put the past behind us and start living a new way.
3. Are we fulfilling other people’s expectations for us
In Matthew’s Gospel we read that it was not James and John who went to Jesus but it was their mother (Salome). Perhaps they all did, we don’t know but I suspect that James and John did have to deal with the fact that their mother had certain expectations for them which she expected them to fulfil. We all have to be careful of the expectations of others for us. Remember Jesus himself had to make clear that he would not simply follow the expectations of his family.
The way is laid out for us today to participate in the work of Christ. We are called to be servants after the example of Jesus. Thankfully we can also draw inspiration from the lives of James and John. Having so miserable failed they went on to live lives of great service.
It can be tempting to be like James and John and see success in human terms, judge success by great numbers, lots of money or recognition or influence. Even in church life we do this, judging churches for example by how many come. Today's gospel opens our eyes to look for true greatness in other ways.
Greatness surrounds us in daily life as we see others active in service in all sorts of small ways. Being a servant sometimes means having to get on and do things quietly and unnoticed, without shouting or drawing attention to our willingness to serve. We are surrounded by examples of those who, in quiet ways, behind the scenes serve without receiving praise; help without thanks and remain faithful to daily responsibilities without trumpets fanfares or awards.
- Those who care for an elderly relative or friend day in and day out.
- Single parents who struggle to make ends meet and who work hard to bring up their children to be responsible and kind.
- Those who look after a sick friend or practice patience in a difficult working environment.
- Those who carry on volunteering and giving their time, when it would be so easy to walk away and spend that precious time doing things which they would enjoy.
In a world which is obsessed fame and wealth, thank God we honour those who give themselves sacrificially in service of others. These are the ones who bring the greatest healing to the world and so we embrace and celebrate the humble, serving people around us. We don’t do this on our own anymore than Jesus expected his disciples to do it on their own. we are nourished by Christ’s strength. So we come to our communion seeking God’s strength and nourishment as we realise that we can not do it on our own.