Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost / October 21, 2012 / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Text: Mark 10: 35 – 45 / Message by Rev. Carol Kniseley / Title: Make Me a Servant Today
Little known fact: today’s Gospel story was never meant to be told. It was too embarrassing. After traveling with Jesus for close to three years, they were right there with our Lord…breathing the same air…trying their best to recall what Jesus had been teaching them day in and day out…and still…they don’t quite get it. Try as they might…even on the best of days...according to Mark’s Gospel, they always seem to miss the mark. Who are we talking about? Why the Sons of Thunder, as Jesus liked to call them. Known to the rest of us as the two brothers from Galilee, James and John were among the first disciples to be hand-picked by Jesus himself.
Their father was named Zebedee….and their mother, whose name we are not told, also became a follower of Jesus. We know they were fisherman by trade because when Jesus called them…they immediately left their father in the boat where they were helping him to mend a net. Of all the disciples Jesus could have chosen to be closest to…he chose only three: Peter, James, and his younger brother John. It would be these three that would later bear witness to Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor. It would be these three who watched in awe as Jesus brought a little girl back to life…by simply lifting her by the hand. And even more telling, it would be these three whom Jesus chose to be near him in the Garden of Gethsemane…on the night in which he was betrayed. It was these three whom Jesus apparently counted on more than all the rest…which makes today’s story all the more embarrassing.
By coming to Jesus and asking to be placed in positions of authority and power…Jesus knew they did not know what they were asking. According to Mark’s time line, they are already on their way to Jerusalem. Jesus has been trying his best to prepare them for what was about to take place. It wasn’t going to be pretty by anyone’s imagination…and yet, it is in this context that James and his brother John decided to make their big move. And so they stated:
‘Teacher…we want you to do for us…whatever we ask of you.’
And even before he can reply, Jesus can almost predict what they are going to ask from him.
‘Grant us to sit…one at your right hand…and one at your left in your glory.’
From the look on Jesus face, one can almost feel his disappointment. After all this time, even those closest to him seemed to be farther from recognizing the truth.
‘It simply doesn’t work that way,’ Jesus tries to tell them. For some reason they had all gotten the idea that the Kingdom of God was going to be like a giant banquet table. And that those who were seated at the table…were there because of some divine appointment. What James and John are betting on is that Jesus will be slated for the #1 position…and that his most loyal staff members will be seated…one on his right…and one on his left.
‘It simply doesn’t work that way,’ Jesus continues to insist. The new world that is coming…is not at all like the one we live in. The new world will turn the old one upside down. And so, despite what the world says…those seated at the head table and being waited on hand and foot…are not the ones to watch.
Look closely. The ones to keep your eyes on are the ones slipping in and out among the guests refilling the wine glasses and laying down clean silverware for the next course. Those who are considered great, according to Jesus, are not the ones sitting to the left and to the right of the guest of honor. Instead they are the ones stirring the pots in the kitchen, testing the temperature of the soup so that it is neither too hot or too cold for the guests. In other words, it has nothing to do with the theology of glory….and everything to do with the cross.
James and John want Jesus to hurry up and take his rightful place as King of the world. And yet, Jesus has other concerns to deal with:
1) Has everyone been served?
2) Is all of the food on the table? Including the bread and the wine?
3) Does anyone need anything
He asks these questions because he already knows the answers. The Son of Man came not to be served…but to serve…and to give his life a ransom for many. Each one of us who professes to be a follower of Jesus…has been baptized into the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. Which, in a nutshell, means that like James and John…we too have been called aside for a very special reason. The name that Jesus has designated for us…he also chose for himself: a servant of all. If we do not understand it completely, we should not be too hard on ourselves. Even those closest to Jesus had their moments when they missed their mark by a long shot. The good news for them and for us…is that Jesus never stopped teaching them…and not once did he turn his back on them. The same can be said of his relationship with each one of us.
This much we can be certain of: whether we can make sense of it or not, ‘serving’ is how God will transform this world, not from the top down…but from the bottom up. The true gift of giving then, must come from a servant’s heart…one that doesn’t have time for excuses…but instead turns the question of James and John upside down.
‘Teacher…we want to do for you…whatever you ask of us.’
To which Jesus will undoubtedly reply: ‘Go in peace…serve the Lord.’ Amen