The Gospel Lesson for 10/17/21
35 James 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.” 41 When 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.”
As I watch our culture devolve into shouting and shooting matches around all the permutations of whose rights are being violated at any given moment in this country, I recall the last couple of verses of the gospel passage for Sunday, where Jesus says, “…but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Obedience and submission have fallen out of favor in Christian circles these days. The very words conjure images of subjugation and suppressed humanity. And, yes, that is perhaps not an unfair assessment as we read history (or the daily news feed on our phones!). And yet, if we are truly called to become more and more like Jesus Christ, one of the hallmarks of growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord is the giving up of our so-called rights to ourself (see the ‘original’ temptation in Eden). It matters not if we live in the United States or in Russia, our “rights” only reach as far as the person next to us. Then we must negotiate, defer, or see ourselves as equals in our understandings. Right now, many Christians are fussing and fighting over what some see as ‘God-given rights’ and others see as ‘the common good’ about how we live with one another during the pandemic. In stark contrast, folks in other lands are so impoverished and beaten down that they don’t have the energy to fight for their next meal. Christians and non-Christians alike could benefit from a big cultural mirror placed in front of ourselves, next to a mural of the life of Christ.
Pr. David Lose commented in a sermon a few years ago,
“…perhaps one of the most pernicious illusions of our culture is that we are, indeed, free and autonomous beings who can live independent of all bonds of loyalty, devotion, and service. In fact, I shudder to think how much time and energy we expend in service to – yes, in service to – the idea that we don’t have to serve anyone.”
Being a servant or even alluding to servanthood these days can land you in a world of difficulty. The words ‘slave’ and ‘servant’ are not terribly helpful anymore and yet the command to serve others and to serve God has never left us. We can pretend for appearances’ sake that being good (however that might be defined in any given circumstance) is sufficient to account for obedience, but God is asking something much more radical from us. He is asking us to give up ourselves for him and for each other, even as he gave himself for us. And some of that sacrifice may more closely align with what John Lewis called “good trouble” than with being good.
This passage in Mark shows us two disciples who still haven’t the vaguest clue about submission, instead assuming that because they have come this far with Jesus, he will reward them with power and recognition. Stanley Saunders, in his book Feasting on the Gospels, wrote,
“Servanthood is too often a platitude in congregations, or a mantle thrust upon some to the advantage of others, rather than a defining shared practice. Where service is valued only by a few and consumed by others, the church merely replicates the politics of the Gentiles. Distrust and division, displayed here by the disciples, are sure symptoms of communal life disrupted by the quest for personal power.”
Jesus has set the example: The Word of Life came to earth and was not heard. The Bread of Life came to earth and fasted. The Water of Life came to earth and was given vinegar to drink. The Life of the World came to earth to die. For us. His “rights” as God’s Son did not enter into the equation, such was his love for us (see Philippians 2:5-11).
Sebastian Valfre, a 17th century priest, sums it up for me:
“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having
suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.”
e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
If you are interested in becoming an e-Devotion author, please contact Pastor Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602.866.9191.
The e-Devotion can also be viewed on the All Saints website.