October 21, 2018 by
David Jackson in
Reflections on Sunday Gospels
29th Sunday of Ordinary Time “B”
Upside down authority.
Introduction: This Sunday’s Gospel takes up the Way section of Mark’s Gospel immediately after Jesus’ third announcement of his handing over, suffering, death and resurrection. Mark continues to follow his previous pattern: announcement, reaction, teaching. Mark’s first way of dying with Jesus is to be completely open to whatever God asks; his second, to accept even the most insignificant persons into our communities on an equal footing with everyone else. His third revolves around how we look at our entire lives, our purpose for being on Earth. We listen for the reaction of James and John to this announcement and especially to the teaching of Jesus. A word repeats as an almost solemn refrain. Please catch the word.
In the Gospel of Mark there is a special place given to three apostles: Peter, James and John. When the daughter of Jairus is ill and Jesus arrives at the house where there is a din of mourning. He takes with him Peter, James and John.At the transfiguration these three are present again. When Jesus arrives to the agony of the Garden he will take apart with him Peter, James and John. Theirs is aposition of prominence.
But in this section of the Gospel theirs is a position of misunderstanding. First it had been Peter who responded to Jesus announcement by taking hold of him to turn him away from the Cross and death. Second on the road it had beenothers who were discussing who was the most important. Today James and John respond to the third announcement by asking to be at the right and left (positions of prominence) when Jesus comes into his kingdom.
The apostles were thinking of the “human one’s glory” as a messianic coup, throw out the Romans, James and John are looking for important positions in the administration of the new regime.
Like us the apostles have a difficult time understanding just what following Jesus is all about. The good news is that Jesus does not give up on them and does not give up on us. Eventually they do learn, hopefully we will too. In today’s Gospel James and John are ambitious for important places in glory. (Luke softens this critique of James and John by having their mother approach Jesus. )The other 10 apostles are jealous or envious or resentful of James and John. Jesus teaches them and us.
He asks them “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” They said to him, “We can.” How many times do we, without thinking, say yes to something when we don’t know what it entails?
For Jesus his baptism reaches back to the beginning of the Gospel and his public life adventure (1:8ff) and the cup reaches forward to the last supper and the prayer in the garden (14:23,36). Also looking ahead we know that “on the right and left” two thieves will be crucified with Jesus.
Jesus uses two expressions that catch my attention when talking about rulers and great ones, “lord it over them” and “make their authority over them felt.” Have you ever had the experience of someone lording it over you or making their importance felt? I have. 1) Airplane counters at delay or cancellation, 2) restaurant with a customer who can’t be pleased, 3) church, bishops, priests, people who come to help for the wrong reasons, prestige, etc.
There are very different ways to exercise authority. In our culture the drive to get on top, the drive toward upward mobility is very present. It is a top down, me up you down authority. We know it when we are experiencing it. James and John reflect this attitude in their addressing Jesus: “Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.”
The word that Jesus repeats is “serve” and related words, servant and slave. Let us hear that teaching again: “But it shall not be so with you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to beserved but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This is the upside down authority of the servant leader. Jesus is counter cultural; he serves from beneath not from above.
When we meet a person of this kind of Christ like service we know it. This person’s service speaks to us of some mystery gained, some goodness, something beyond themselves, something of the suffering and servant Jesus. This Sunday calls us to examine our service as an expression of our following of Jesus. Are we on his way or another way?