Kristin Leigh Grassel
Scripture: Mark 10:35-45, 20th Sunday after Pentecost
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, "You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
"Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
I was fascinated to learn that the many Americans who win the lottery grow to regret what they initially welcomed as a blessing of financial salvation. Millions of us every year play the lottery like they did, hoping to pick the magic numbers and purchase the winning ticket. The possibility of winning feeds our hope of paying off those student loans, that mortgage, our children’s college educations, and perhaps even that new car, kitchen renovation, fishing boat, or European vacation we’ve always dreamed about.
What we don’t hope for is having to deal with our friends and relatives who might be offended if we don’t share ‘enough’ of our winnings with them. We don’t daydream about the hundreds of people who contact every lottery winner for a piece of their pie, claiming to be long-lost relatives, and the stress of deciding how to respond to their requests. And we can’t imagine the mixed emotions we might eventually feel after winning the lottery, wondering if our financial decisions were really the right ones, the sneaking suspicion that there are millions of other people who have a greater need for the money we received by chance.
I think James and John saw Jesus through the eyes of lottery ticket holders. After all, the Jewish community had been waiting for the messiah for centuries, fashioning hopes and dreams about the glory of the world to come under the messiah’s reign. James and John seem to have had big hopes for themselves as the Son of Man’s ‘right-hand and left-hand men.’
"The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared."
However, it seems they could not imagine the danger and ridicule that would have come with such a gift. Had James and John been acknowledged as figures of honor and glory in the ‘Jesus Administration’ they may have been dealt with as harshly as Jesus was at Golgotha.
Through baptism we are bound together with Jesus and all of saints in a common Life in the service of God. All are called to make of their lives a living sacrifice in collaboration with God in building the holy community, or kingdom of God, on earth. This passage seems to suggest, however, that only a few are prepared and equipped to give up their lives in that service, as Jesus did.
"You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
We often associate leadership with fame, wealth, status, and privilege. This is as true for us today as it was for Jesus in his context. No one expected the messiah to be born in a stable, the illegitimate son of a carpenter. Jesus, in his life and death, turns the tables and reveals the great paradox of the religious life: greatness grows in us through service to others; privilege is granted to those who privilege others before themselves; we must be willing to lose our fame, wealth, status, privilege, and even our very lives if we wish to keep them. Indeed, the Jewish people of Jesus’ time had been forced to give up much of their culture as ransom for survival throughout centuries of Hellenization. Roman slaves had been forced to give up their dignity as ransom for survival in a culture and economy that valued only the wealthy and privileged. But mere survival without one’s culture and dignity is no life at all.
I think Jesus valued his Jewish identity and culture, his inherent human dignity, and his commitment to serve and empower the oppressed more than he valued his life, so he ransomed his life in order to preserve these values in himself, and the in lives and memories of his followers.
May our lives and our work be living sacrifices in the service of a God who loves and values us all, and a holy community in which human greatness is expressed through the generous sharing of our hands, the gentle embrace of our arms, and the loving touching of hearts. Thanks be to God. Amen.