Mark 10:32-45 The third time is a charm. Or maybe not. Jesus, three times, makes a very clear announcement that he is going to die, and not of old age in a nursing home either. This morning the brothers read the third and most detailed announcement made to the disciples– you can find the other two in chapter 8 and chapter 9 of Mark’s gospel. Immediately after his announcement, those brothers moved in to grab their own seats of power just in case the end of this run with Jesus was really coming soon. The guys who sit next to the king are commonly understood to be the most prestigious, the most powerful, the right and left hand men to the guy at the top. We humans have been doing it since childhood. Children inevitably tussle with one another to be able to sit next to the teacher they love. The seats on either side of the authority figure are clearly the best. Haven’t you seen a child who gets that seat turn and look at the other ones she beat out with an obvious look of triumph? She is at the top, and she knows it and they know it.
The disciples still don’t get it. This is a running theme in Mark’s gospel. Time after time they appear clueless, unable to really fathom the teachings of Jesus. 3 times he has told them. Jesus is clear as a bell. “I am heading directly toward death in Jerusalem. You had better get out the funeral clothes, guys. Prepare for the mourning procession and the repast.” The ones closest to Jesus clearly don’t like thinking or talking about death and dying. Peter insists he must be wrong in chapter 8. The whole group does not understand and is afraid to ask questions in chapter 9. And here in chapter 10, they change the subject. (They are not so different from many of us, then, are they?) No one likes to talk about death. We put it off as long as we can. Sometimes a loved one is dead before we have had a chance to ask them how they feel about it, how they want to be remembered, or what to do the body they will leave behind.
Jesus talks about his death openly. He knows it is coming. This pending death is the reason he is here in the first place. He dies so others can live. He takes on the role of the suffering servant in Isaiah, offering up his life as a ransom for many, or you might say, rescuing us from our self-centered interest in gaining personal power and prestige, freeing us from the blinders we wear as we journey through life. Although his death might appear at first to be senseless, it is not. It is purposeful and planned. If you are walking on the road with him, it is hard to talk about. Let’s change the subject. Let’s talk about how to pray or something spiritual like that. For Jesus it is the only subject worth talking about. You can’t ignore his death. You can’t skip over the cross and the mourning and the grave parts of the story. Without his death, there really is no life. That is, no commitment to the life he calls us to live, a life of service, of becoming great by becoming the least, a life of putting me in the background and lifting others up. The life of caring about the welfare of your neighbor, the life of servanthood.
Let’s change the subject. Let’s ignore the fear that is walking right along with us as we walk on the road. Growing fear. Everyone knows that the religious authorities are riled up, looking for a way to stop this threatening movement. I wonder if it was starting to feel kind of like the way you feel when that ominous music starts playing in a movie, and you just know something bad is going to happen. Time for a commercial break, we say in our heads!
Jesus won’t change the subject. He is trying to plant the seeds for the kingdom of God with these guys. Like a good teacher, he uses a variety of teaching methods to get his point across. He has used parables to describe the kingdom of God. He has used action to show who is included in the kingdom of God– even those on the other side of the lake. No parables here. No images or metaphors. Now it is a matter of life and death. If we are going to find this kingdom of God, we have to come up to the cross, we must stand at the grave, we must acknowledge the death which brought life. Looking death in the face, Jesus uses that death to explain what it is to be a disciple: “I am offering my life. I am looking for servants, not would-be rulers. That is who makes up the kingdom of God.”
It is not just the two outspoken, power hungry brothers who missed the message. The rest of the disciples who did not ask for the seats next to King Jesus are really no better. They cared about their own prestige and power or they wouldn’t have been so put out, so angry, and so jealous. You know some of them were thinking: “I should have asked first!” Others might have thought: “Oh, how embarrassing that they would even ask him that! At least I am above that kind of behavior.”
Jesus cuts all the whining short. Time to re-focus. They are looking out for themselves. That is a different kind of kingdom. That is the kingdom of me. The kingdom where we think everything revolves around us and our comfort and our desires. It is the kingdom of tyrants and dictators and leaders who lord their authority over others in harmful ways. That is not the kingdom we are looking for.
Here at Hunting Ridge, we are hunting for the kingdom of God this Lent. The kin-dom, where all are identified as brothers and sisters who are willing to serve one another. Remember that image of the people seated at a large banquet table with long spoons tied to their arms, making it impossible to feed themselves? The kin-dom is like that banquet where everyone is using his or her spoon to serve the person across the table. Using the resources available to you, become a servant to others. It is in giving up time, or attention, or money, or space that we find life. I know you have experienced it– feeling energized, hopeful, or at peace in some way when you offer yourself in service to someone else. It happens with little things or big things, multiple times a day perhaps, unexpected or very planned. When you are serving others, you are forgetting about yourself. That is the key. When you are serving only yourself, it is hard to find time to serve others, isn’t it? Something always gets in the way. Oh, I need this, I am going here, I deserve that, I , I, I.
I like what pastor-blogger David Lose says about serving. His assumption is that we are always serving someone– is it God? is it yourself? is it others? He says “…. James and John think greatness comes from status and power. And in response Jesus points out that there is no escaping service. You will either willingly, even joyfully, serve others, or you will become a slave to your illusions that you can be free and secure your future through status and power (or wealth or youth or fame or possessions, and so on.).”
In his death, Jesus teaches that we enter the kingdom through serving. He serves with his life. Let us meditate this week on the ways we are serving others and the new ways we could serve others. But let’s do more than meditate on it. Let’s go out to serve. Amen.