Saturday, October 10, 2015

Servants of God

Mark 10:35-45, the gospel text appointed for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost in the Year of Mark, gives us one last look at the disciples prior to the triumphant entry into Jerusalem in Chapter 11.  Have they come to understand the nature of Jesus' reign, the call to take up the cross, or Jesus' concern for "the little ones"?  Sadly, they have not.  Undoubtedly, we as disciples of Jesus often find ourselves following their lamentable example.

(The following questions are taken from the method outlined in my guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted.  It is available through amazon or wipf and stock publishers.)

1.   How does the Word function in the text?  The Word is embodied in Jesus again, as in most gospel texts.  Jesus' first words to the disciples today are words of law in that they show clearly the disciples' need of repentance.  "You do not know what you are asking," says Jesus.  He might as well have said, "You are lost in your own futile pursuit of greateness."  Later in the passage he details what he means, saying, "Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant."  A word of gospel appears right at the end of the passage as Jesus says, "The Son of Man came... to give his life a ransom for many."

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  There is no doubt that we must identify with the disciples here.  We too, often are caught up in the hope that Jesus is simply the genie in the lamp, or our personal Santa Claus, and our only function is to demand, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."  Seeing the disciples behave this way in the text we are aghast, but this text gives us an opportunity to ask ourselves, "When have I behaved this way?"

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  The call to obedience - the word that says, "Follow me" - is clearly in this text and indeed, it forms the crux of this passage.  Jesus calls his followers to refrain from following the world's example of "lording it over" others, and instead asks us who would be great to be servants, and us who would be first to be slaves of all.  This call is not the call to faith, but the call to obedience.  We are first called to trust this One who has given his life as a ransom for many, and then, trusting that One we are freed to be servants of all.

4. What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Perhaps the state of the disciples can stir our imagination here:  false glory/real greatness; being lords/being servants; demanding power/ransomed to life.

5.  Exegetical work:  This text follows immediately after the third passion prediction, where Jesus says once again that he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, suffer and die, and after three days rise.  Amazingly, the request of James and John to have a place at the right hand and at the left in glory, follows this.  But if we look at the second prediction, lo and behold, we find the same pattern.  In Mark 9:30-32 Jesus predicts his death and immediately after that the disciples argue about who is the greatest.  What about the first passion prediction?  You guessed it!  In Mark 8:31-32 Jesus first predicts his passion and immediately following we have Peter's rebuke which Jesus terms, "setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."  The gospel writer, Mark, seems to be setting up a pattern here:  whenever Jesus speaks about his suffering and death, the disciples follow it by ignoring his words and demanding greatness on the world's terms.  Is this a hint at how difficult Jesus' words are for us all?  No doubt.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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