A Life of Service
This is the third time, and final time, we hear Jesus’ passion prediction. This is also the third time that Jesus has had the opportunity to explain the life of discipleship following his passion prediction.
If we take a look at his first passion prediction we see the encounter between Jesus and Peter in Mark 8:31-38. Jesus then follows up that up with the saying that if you want to be his followers then we have to deny ourselves take up our cross and follow him. There is more to the what he says but he reverses this idea of trying to be first and instead having a servant mindset.
The second passion prediction comes in Mark 9:30-37. Now I know we have already covered these in other sermons but I want us to really see how they line up in their structure. Following this second prediction we then have the disciples arguing on the road about who is the greatest. Jesus again talks about being last and servant. Then he places the child in their midst and tells them about being welcoming.
Now, we get our final passion prediction in Mark 10:32-45 and the conversation that follows is James and John trying to vie for the position of left and right hand of Jesus. You would think after two times that Jesus has told them that either trying to subvert the death and resurrection of Jesus or about who is the greatest among the twelve that they would have finally shifted their minds away from this earthly messiah into a heavenly one, but they haven’t. They are on their way to Jerusalem with a crowd of people so perhaps James and John felt this might be the takeover they were still hoping for? I’m not sure, but Jesus more than corrects them once more.
In one of my calls I was talking with a widow in the congregation after worship and I was following up on a surgery she had. As conversations do they progressed beyond just her recovery into other aspects of her life. She was building a new house while selling the old one. She was caring for some of her grandkids a few days a week even while recovering from surgery. She then shared with me that she was prepared to rewrite her will because she was fed up with her kids. Some of the kids felt that she didn’t need to build a house and that her current house was fine. They told her she should save her money for something else. Well she went on to explain that her family had been very interested in her finances because she and her husband had done well for their lives and the children had been trying their best for years to make sure their inheritance was secure. They knew what the payout would be in the event their mom passed away. She was certain that’s why they didn’t want her to build and invest in a new home. She told them it was her money and she was going to do the things she needed and wanted with the money she had. This is all why she was considering re-writing her will. She didn’t want to pass along her money to greedy children. Perhaps you are going through something similar, and if so, I’m sorry.
I see what is happening in today’s Gospel as very similar to this. Jesus is either going to die and rise to glory here on earth or he is going to just take over Jerusalem, becuase those seem like the most likely reasons why James and John are making this request. They want to secure their positions of power. Power equals status and they seem to want to have these titles before they get into Jerusalem and before everything happens. Jesus begins by asking them about drinking from the cup and being baptized like him to which they agree they can. As I’ve said before though…the things Jesus is talking about isn’t what they think he’s talking about. The symbol of the cup has symbology that refers to one’s fate and possibly suffering and possibly even death. Baptism as we know talks about a dying to self and rising to a new spiritual life. I’m not sure that James and John were thinking these things or if they were they weren’t necessarily prepared for what doing these things would lead to for them. But Jesus does clearly state that the right and the left are not for him to grant.
Then we get the formal teaching that has happened after each of these passion predictions. Jesus reminds them what the Greco-Roman world is like. It is a world where people struggle and strive for power. That power equals status and greatness. Then that greatness becomes something that they can hang over the heads of others. It was important to have power and you did not want to be someone without power. People lied, killed, and schemed their way to become a governor or leader in the Roman Empire. Perhaps not all of them, but what we do know of Herod, who was in charge of Judea, was one of those people. He killed family to ensure his power and greatness were not threatened. Let’s not think about what he did to people that weren’t his family to keep his power secure.
That may be how the world works but that’s not how God works. Jesus continues to insist on this language of servanthood and slavehood. One of the commentaries I read talked about how this contrast was probably mind blowing to the disciples which is why it might have been so hard for them to understand. The Word Biblical Commentary shares this quote from Plato, “How can one be happy when he has to serve someone?” Just as I mentioned power equaled greatness and happiness in the world, then being poor and especially a servant or slave meant you were unhappy, at least in the eyes of society. Let’s face it our society, in general, is no different than that of Rome. There are many people today who seek status, wealth and power over serving.
But that is exactly what Jesus calls us to do. In fact the term servant that we get is the word diakonos in Greek. It is the word that Mark uses as Jesus saying and it is the same word that Plato used in that quote I shared with you. Jesus tells us to be the very thing society looks down upon. What is great about that word is that is the word that our church uses when we lift up leaders. Sharon and perhaps others are Diaconal Ministers, and that is something we lift up. I love that we use a word that was considered a bad word as a word for those who share their spiritual gifts with churches and other organizations. It is a way to live out and embrace the idea that Jesus calls us all to a life of servanthood. I may have pointed out the term Diaconal Minister, but we are all servants and followers of Christ and we are all called to use our spiritual gifts to the service of our God and to the world. That is what it means to follow Jesus and be one of his disciples.
We are to follow the path and example of our Messiah, our Savior, our Rabbi. For Jesus lived out a life of service to neighbor. He didn’t just talk about serving and he didn’t just talk about giving his life as a ransom for the world. He did it. He gave his life for our sake. He took the form of a slave and as Philippians 2:5-11 talks about was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. He had people around him not to lift up and make important but to continue to share the good news of God as found in Christ Jesus. The news of life and the gift of discipleship. To change the world one person and interaction at a time. So that we can lift one another up and not lord it over them. We are freed and made whole thanks to that very life, death, resurrection, and ascension Jesus tells us about today. A gift so powerful thousands of years later I still don’t think we fully grasp it. But we live it out and share it with the best of our ability, so that all may one day know what a gift it is. Amen.