Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
October 18, 2009 (Lectionary 29)
Job 38:1-7 [34-41]
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35b (24)
Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, you turn your greatness into goodness for all the peoples on earth. Shape us into willing servants of your kingdom, and make us desire always and only your will, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
Alleluia. The Son of Man came not to be served | but to serve,
and to give his life as a ran- | som for many. Alleluia. (Mark 10:45)
1. CONTEXT: Mark 10:35-45
This striking incident, paralleled in Matthew 20:20-28, gives a picture of the meaning of discipleship. It undoubtedly circulated in more than one form, since Mark's version has James and John approaching Jesus directly, while Matthew softens the picture of the two disciples by having the approach made by their ambitious mother. The reaction of the other disciples is a clear picture of their humanity and leads us to suspect that these qualities were not foreign to James and John. Indeed, it is a testimony to the integrity of the Markan author, as many scholars agree, that he has not concealed the very human realities of the apostolic band.
C. S. Mann, whose Anchor Bible commentary holds that Mark is written after Matthew and Luke, is at pains to suggest that Mark obviously has based his version on a source earlier than theirs or at least has quoted it with more integrity, as the use of the disciples' names would indicate.
The placement of this story in the Markan account is not without significance. It comes very late in Jesus ministry, right on the edge of the final days in Jerusalem. Already many followers have "fallen away." It is a tribute to the disciples that, despite their misunderstanding of Jesus' purpose and destiny, they are still part of his entourage. Even though they many not understand what it means to drink of his cup, they are still ready to share it and they are still with him after they have heard (and perhaps again misunderstood) his explanation.
This is surely an appropriate moment to deal with the issues of Messiahship and the issues of discipleship. The drama of the Passion episodes is heightened by this theological stage-setting. While the vision of Messianic servanthood might never have occurred to the disciples at this point in time, it is clearly Jesus' intention to raise the issue and to look toward the role of the Suffering Servant. Simultaneously the opportunity presents itself to deal with the nature of discipleship. The disciples (and the early Church, for that matter) have a recurring all-to-human picture of hierarchical government and hierarchical honor. The incident and the reported words of Jesus bring an altogether different picture of church government and of the Christian's calling.
It is in this setting, then, that the story is told, and it is filled with very human elements: the ambitions of James and John, the ambitions of their fellow disciples, the quick and easy responses ("Lord, we are able"), and the sense, confirmed by the words of Jesus in the story, that these disciples will in the end pay something of the price proposed, the price of discipleship, even suffering and martyrdom.
1b. Text: Mark 10:35-45
10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
10:36 And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?"
10:37 And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory."
10:38 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?"
10:39 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;
10:40 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."
10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.
10:42 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.
10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.
35 Καὶ προσπορεύονται αὐτῷ Ἰάκωβος καὶ Ἰωάννης οἱ υἱοὶ Ζεβεδαίου λέγοντες αὐτῷ, Διδάσκαλε, θέλομεν ἵνα ὃ ἐὰν αἰτήσωμέν σε ποιήσῃς ἡμῖν.
36 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τί θέλετέ [με] ποιήσω ὑμῖν;
37 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δὸς ἡμῖν ἵνα εἷς σου ἐκ δεξιῶν καὶ εἷς ἐξ ἀριστερῶν καθίσωμεν ἐν τῇ δόξῃ σου.
38 ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Οὐκ οἴδατε τί αἰτεῖσθε. δύνασθε πιεῖν τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω, ἢ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθῆναι;
39 οἱ δὲ εἶπαν αὐτῷ, Δυνάμεθα. ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς, Τὸ ποτήριον ὃ ἐγὼ πίνω πίεσθε καὶ τὸ βάπτισμα ὃ ἐγὼ βαπτίζομαι βαπτισθήσεσθε,
40 τὸ δὲ καθίσαι ἐκ δεξιῶν μου ἢ ἐξ εὐωνύμων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐμὸν δοῦναι, ἀλλ' οἷς ἡτοίμασται.
41 Καὶ ἀκούσαντες οἱ δέκα ἤρξαντο ἀγανακτεῖν περὶ Ἰακώβου καὶ Ἰωάννου.
42 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς, Οἴδατε ὅτι οἱ δοκοῦντες ἄρχειν τῶν ἐθνῶν κατακυριεύουσιν αὐτῶν καὶ οἱ μεγάλοι αὐτῶν κατεξουσιάζουσιν αὐτῶν.
43 οὐχ οὕτως δέ ἐστιν ἐν ὑμῖν: ἀλλ' ὃς ἂν θέλῃ μέγας γενέσθαι ἐν ὑμῖν, ἔσται ὑμῶν διάκονος,
44 καὶ ὃς ἂν θέλῃ ἐν ὑμῖν εἶναι πρῶτος, ἔσται πάντων δοῦλος:
45 καὶ γὰρ ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου οὐκ ἦλθεν διακονηθῆναι ἀλλὰ διακονῆσαι καὶ δοῦναι τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ λύτρον ἀντὶ πολλῶν.
Novum Testamentum Graece, Nestle-Aland 26th edition © 1979,
Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, Stuttgart;
The Greek New Testament, 3rd edition © 1975, United Bible Societies, London
2. ANALYSIS : Mark 10:35-45
Mk. 10:35 - "James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.'" - There is reflected here a typical Oriental approach to the asking of a favor; that is, the attempt to get the favor granted before the actual content of the favor is revealed. We may see here something of our modern tendency to wish to bargain with God, to attempt to escape the obvious consequences of our own misdeeds. Obviously James and John know what their compatriots among the disciples will think. But, being human, they try anyway.
10:37 -- "... Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." - The expectation of the disciples is that Jesus will ultimately be crowned as an earthly ruler. In their understanding, the chief associates of the ruler sat in the places of honor, first place on the right and second place on the left (even though sinistra or "left" ordinarily carried with it the suggestion of evil). That competition for place or for power is obviously not limited to the disciples. It is a manifestation often to be seen today, not only in the political arena but in basic human relationships and even in the church itself.
v. 38 - . - "You do not know what you are asking." Here is a phrase which characterizes much of the Christian practice of prayer. All sorts of requests are mouthed in prayer or even made in the greatest depth of sincerity and concern, but they are voiced without consideration of the consequences of answered prayer. Jesus suggests that the disciples have no understanding of the price of their request. He puts that very succinctly in his next sentence.
v. 38 - - "Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" - Both of these terms, cup and baptism carry a freight of meaning quite beyond what the disciples seem to understand. To drink from a cup offered by a ruling monarch might indicate that one had been offered a great honor, a gift of prestige. But it can also mean to share in the cup of hemlock (remember Socrates) or of suffering. It may in this context carry with it the sense of the eucharistic cup which is shared at the Last Supper, "the new covenant in my blood." Likewise baptism, surely familiar to the disciples as a rite of symbolic cleansing, carries also the meaning suggested by John the Baptist, a baptism by fire. Here also is the load of possible martyrdom and suffering -- not what the disciples have hoped for. As C. S. Mann points out, Rom. 6:3 ("We have been baptized into his death") may very well be a reminiscence of this saying.
v. 40 - "but it is for those for who it has been prepared." - The entire verse deals with the question of precedence, and Jesus suggests that it is not his to award, but is to be given instead to those who are fitted for such a place. The issue here is not really one of predestination or even divine foreknowledge, but simply one of worth. There is a sense in which such a place is to be earned, and we need to remind ourselves that those who set out to earn it have already disqualified themselves. Only those who give themselves unreservedly and for no trivial reasons will be judged as worthy. Jesus' explanations in verse 45 will state this in the most positive fashion.
v. 44 - doulos - "slave". Notice the way in which Jesus goes beyond mere servanthood in describing the role of the Christian disciple. It is not just servant that is being described here, the commitment of the disciple goes to the point of slavery. The word "doulos" sometimes refers to the freed slave, who for love of master, might, in a little ceremony involving the piercing of the ear by an awl to the doorpost of the master's home, continue his slavery out of love, becoming therefore a "love slave" of the family. Surely no homiletical commentary is needed at this point.
v. 45 - - "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Here is the heart of our story, a clear statement attributed to Jesus very early in the life of the early Church, a statement which carries with it the sense of atonement, of the vision of Jesus as lutron or "ransom." The Greek is always used either for the price for the return of a captive (ransom) or for the purchase price for the manumission of slaves. We need not adopt a substitutionary theory of atonement to see the value of the analogy in understanding the picture of the Messiah's redemptive work. Side by side with this picture is to be gained a picture of that discipleship which shares Messiah's cup and Messiah's baptism. This is strong medicine indeed.
3. STRATEGY: Mark 10:35-45
The homilist is apt to be overwhelmed with the many possibilities presented by this pericope. One of course would deal with the cost of servanthood, some reexamination of what it means to be a Christian disciple. There is also the opportunity for political commentary with meditation upon the current emphasis on power (to the point of corruption) and unimpeded leadership from above with unquestioning obedience from the lower levels of the citizenry.
Still another emphasis might look upon the "preferential option" for the poor and the dispossessed. Surely the picture of Jesus who gives his life as a ransom for the many leads in such a direction. The implied criticism of the powerful and the mighty in Jesus' description of his own calling would also point in this direction.
Or there could be found here the source of powerful preaching dealing with the sin of pride and the perils of overweening ambition. The spectacle of the entire company of the disciples making such an emphasis upon place in the coming Kingdom on the very eve of the Passion and the Crucifixion can surely be the source of real inspiration at this point. There are parallels in our own time, not only outside the church in the arenas of business and politics, but within the community of faith. How many local churches have been destroyed by this kind of interior pushing and shoving to achieve some relatively trivial place of perceived power!
4. References: Mark 10:35-45
Mann, C. S., The Anchor Bible: Mark, Translation, Introduction and Commentary. Doubleday & Co., Garden City, New York, 1986, pp. 410-420.
Tannehill, Robert C., A Mirror for Disciples, A Study of the Gospel of Mark. Discipleship Resources, Nashville, Tennessee, 1977, pp. 85-90.
5. Music Suggestions: Mark 10:35-45
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus (ELW 392, HB 460/1, LBW 158)
God, who stretched the spangled heavens (ELW 771. HB 580, LBW 463)
Hail, thou once despised Jesus (HB 495, st. 1-2 )
My song is love unknown (ELW 343, HB 458, LBW 94)
O, Master let me walk with thee (ELW 818, HB 659/60, LBW 492)
The head that once was crowned in thorns (ELW 432, HB 483, LBW 173)
When I survey the wondrous cross (ELW 803, HB 474, LBW 482)
Exegetes - Rev. David B. Sageser & Rev. Walt Craig.
REV. DAVID SAGESER IS MISSIONS PASTOR OF Faith United Methodist Church, 15690 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers FL; REV. WALT CRAIG is a retire Pastor in the United Methodist Church in the USA.
Lexegete © 2009
Dartmouth, MA 02747-1925