The Pas Proper / Ordinary 29 – Pentecost + 22 – Trinity + 21
21 October 2018
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Ps 104:1-9, 25, 37b
Most glorious God,
in Jesus you call your people
to true humility and servanthood.
Grant to us the boldness
to desire a place in your kingdom,
the courage to drink the cup of suffering,
and the grace to find in service
the glory you promise;
through the same Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Today’s gospel is one that shows us that although God has a plan for each one of us, that plan is not walked alone, nor does God want more for us than we have the skills, the talents, the abilities to handle.
What we see is that even when we’re not aware of it, God is always with us, surrounding us, and guiding us no matter what it is we’ve discovered that we’ve stuck our foot into this time.
In today’s gospel, then, if God guides our every step, then, can we see God urging James and John to ask Jesus, to elicit Jesus’ reply, and to get the indignation of the disciples going, today.
So, with that in mind we should take a closer look at this passage, look to see what we can only see in retrospect, in looking back and seeing how God, the creator of the universe, has guided us, the disciples, and even guided Jesus in today’s passage.
As the disciples and Jesus walk along, heading for Jerusalem, toward the events that will lead inescapably to the cross, Jesus tells them what is to come.
But they really don’t get the gist, the essence, of what he’s talking about, what it is that he will endure, not just for the people of Israel, but also for all of humanity who believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
He’s told the disciples, he tells each one of us that he must be betrayed, and condemned to death, but that he will rise again from the dead.
And as they all digest this news, this information, they wander along, each at his own pace, lost in his own thoughts, moving inexorably toward Jerusalem, toward the events surrounding the cross.
So, looking at this we see the disciples spread out, wandering along, not really paying attention to where they’re going, other than they’re in the road and going ‘that way’ as they digest the news, the teachings that Jesus has shared with them, along the way.
James and John, brothers and close family members that they are, are chatting together, quietly, and as they do so, they head in the direction of Jesus.
They recognize that he’s been talking about the end of his earthly time, that their ‘apprenticeship’ as Jesus followers is nearing an end, and they’re hoping to secure good positions in Jesus’ kingdom.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean, to them, that Jesus kingdom is in heaven, that he will be sitting at God’s right hand. Rather they’re looking for an earthly promotion, and they’re looking to get in on the ground floor of promotions, now.
“35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.
37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.”” (Mk 10:35-37)
After all, they’ve been with Jesus from the beginning. They’ve been learning all that they can from him, so they’re looking for the positions of honour.
They’re looking for positions of power and influence, and to be alongside the one who will sit at God’s right hand, although that part of it hasn’t occurred to them, yet.
So, Jesus looks at them and, in all seriousness, says “38 “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?”
39 “We can,” they answered.” (Mk 10:38-39)
So, here it is. Here we see the human ambition, the human ego coming smack dab against God’s will for all of humanity. Here we see that James and John have heard the words of Jesus, yet they’re still looking at an earthly rule, an earthly kingdom, at earthly honours and glory.
Here it is: our expectations, our somewhat shaky confidence in our own abilities tries to wrap our minds around what it is we think that God expects of us, every day.
But even that doesn’t see the cross, it doesn’t see that God’s kingdom is not here, in our midst, and it completely ignores that this will take the whole of our lives to prepare for, when God calls us home.
At the same time, this is where we can look at this and we know that when Jesus asks: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” he is actually talking about the passion, the crucifixion, and resurrection.
And we know this because we now where Jesus’ route leads. We’ve seen it.
We walk it with him during Lent, and especially during Holy Week, as it leads from the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday, through the passion of Good Friday, and to the long-awaited joy of Easter.
So, as Jesus knows this, and he knows what it is he has asked of James and John, we can see the expression on his face.
Interestingly it’s the same look we give to the kids who have just asked to borrow the car, and we’re not sure that they are fully aware of, or ready for the responsibility they’ve just asked to assume.
But like those teenagers, anxious to get their hands on the car keys, to feel the freedom of the steering wheel in their hands, James and John stand there and say: “39 “We can.” (Mk 10:39a)
And because they’ve stopped walking along the road, during this conversation, between Jesus, James, and John, the rest of the disciples wander back into hearing range just in time to see Jesus assent to handing over the car keys.
“Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 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.” (Mk 10:39b-40)
And now things get interesting.
Now Jesus gets to the heart of the ways in which our human egos cause us problems, in the world, in the work that Jesus gives us to do, in our lives, in our world.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to be the Chaplain at a Northern Discernment retreat. To be present as a group of people decide, discern, and discuss, whether God is calling them to consider ordained ministry, and whether that ministry will be to the Diaconate, or to the Priesthood.
It was interesting, as we worked through the worship portions of our time together, seeing how their discernment is ongoing for them. But at the same time, it sis also an ongoing process of discernment, of deciding where and for what task God is calling each of us, and for myself, as well.
Its interesting to see how, when we focus on the will of God, for our lives, how those lives are so much richer, and how that enrichment forwards the will of God to bring the kingdom of heaven more noticeably into our midst.
“James and John … came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”” (Mk 10:35) But at the same time: “41 When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.” (Mk 10:41)
We know what we want, and we know how we want to see it realized. But this isn’t necessarily what God sees, what God promotes, what God teaches us in our journey through life.
And so, Jesus moves from trying to explain to James and John that what they’re asking is beyond what they are able to currently comprehend, to explaining to everyone that what we perceive of as leadership only serves ourselves, not our neighbour in need, not all of creation.
Sure, Jesus will give us the keys to the car, when we assure him that we can handle the car and the responsibility of driving.
At the same time, how we handle it, if we’re following Jesus teachings, is so different than how the world views leadership, or embraces the role of leader.
Jesus tells us, tells the disciples: “those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10: 42b-44)
Once more on the road to Jerusalem, moving step by step toward the cross, Jesus, God, turns our perceptions of how things are to be done, how they’re to be carried out, on their ear.
Jesus continues to point out that the way that God envisions, is different than we’ve understood, or continue to try to enforce in the world around us.
Jesus knows where the road that they’re currently standing on, arguing on, following leads. It leads to Jerusalem. It leads to the passion, the crucifixion, and to the resurrection.
Jesus vision of leadership is in the same vein. What we think of as leadership is not what the world sees, embraces, or promotes. Instead he comes to set us free from such practices as society has embraced.
He tells us: “Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 45 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.”” (Mk 10: 43b-45)
They still walk the road, before them, we still walk the road before each one of us. Jesus still walks to his persecution and death, not for his sake, but for each of ours.
James and John, like each and every one of us, are asking more than we are able to realize. And although our requests are granted, none of us walks alone. Christ walks with us, every step, in every circumstance so that they, so that we, can live out our faith in a way that encourages us to model Jesus style of leadership where “whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mk 10:43b-44)