21st Sunday after Pentecost
October 21, 2012
This morning I was listening to the radio and heard the story of a man in Hoboken New Jersey who goes out on the corner outside a local shop on weekend mornings to ask the question, “Do you think there will ever be a world without war?” He said years ago, one out of three people said yes, they could imagine such a world. Nowadays, he says, hardly anyone believes that such a thing is possible. Are we all so cynical? Has a world of greed and hyper-individualism twisted our outlook so much that there is no hope for solving difficult issues without blowing each other up?
I was already thinking of the story we have before us this morning from Mark’s Gospel, and I think the messages have a common thread. So let’s look at what Mark’s story tells us. If you remember back a few chapters, Jesus has told his disciples that at the end of all the miracles and wonderful things that they have witnessed, the authorities will finally put him to death, but that he will rise again.
Peter is horrified and wants to intervene, with force if necessary to change the course of this prediction. Jesus calls him “Satan” and tells him that he does not understand how God works.
Then again Jesus predicts his suffering and death and resurrection, but his disciples hardly hear him, because they are arguing about who is the greatest. He sets a child in the midst of them, telling them that how God understands power is very different than the understanding of the world around them. In God’s kingdom, the first will be last, and that the last will be first. Now they are on the road to Jerusalem, and he’s told them again that he will die at the hands of the religious authorities and that he will rise again after three days.
Not only do they still not understand, this morning we hear James and John pull Jesus aside for a personal conference. “Uh, Jesus, uh, Master, ummmm, we have a special request. When you come into your kingdom, we want to sit on your right and your left.” I don’t read that Jesus just smacks his forehead and groans, but I know that that is my reaction to their plea. Instead Jesus asks them if they think they can go through what he will go through to get to that kingdom. They are pretty sure of themselves. The irony is that they will be treated as savagely as Jesus will be treated, but aside from that, says Jesus, it’s not up to him how the table will be arranged in heaven.
Of course when their buddies find out that James and John are jockeying for a special position that leaves them out of the picture, the other disciples are mad. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” says Jesus. “Wait a second. Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and the one who wants to be first must be the slave of all.”
This is so hard for us to understand. I don’t really blame the disciples for being so stupid and clueless. Our hearts just don’t seem to be made to think of power as giving away or sharing or serving. We are so afraid there will not be enough. And our world certainly doesn’t seem to tell us not to worry about that. How many examples do we need to illustrate that we value those who make money and work their will over others? The comparison between what teachers and firemen earn and what sports heroes earn? The tenacity with which tyrants are willing to sacrifice their people to hold on to power? The justification of killing those who don’t agree with you by religious authorities?
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus shows us another way of power. Jesus will give it all up, just as he has all along. He has not invested in a home or a job or protected a family. He has given his time and life to teach about God’s love for sinners, and gathered a community around him that also trusts their fate to those they serve. He lives to show that God’s power is enough to heal, to give hope, to stand with those who have the least. And he will carry that power with him into his brutal death, overcoming all that evil can command by being restored to full, vibrant life through that power.
Think of what ransom means, to buy something back, right? When Jesus says he will be a ransom for many, our minds click straight in to that place where Jesus was punished for us, or where he intercedes with an angry God for us. But what if Jesus ransoms us by buying us back from the world’s view of power. What if Jesus’ death at the hands of the world buys for us the freedom to trust God’s power in receiving by giving, in leading by serving, in finding a new life by losing our life for the sake of those God loves so much. What’s your story? When have you been able to grasp that experience of receiving by giving? Of leading by serving? Take a minute to reflect on your own experience of finding God in stepping out of yourself.
This is God’s promise to you through Jesus: you have been bought back by God’s own love for you and willingness to serve you. You are free to live out of gratitude for the gift of serving, and giving yourself away.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.