This week’s narrative contains three different elements, each, as is common in Mark’s gospel, linked by urgency and by the road to Jerusalem and, ultimately, Jesus’ death. In this second week in Lent, the narrative raises many questions for us as we seek to follow Christ, and we ask ourselves who do you think you are?
Jesus is, once again, valiantly attempting to teach the disciples about things that lie ahead, about fickleness and betrayal and condemnation and death. There was fear around at what was happening and confusion about the message that Jesus was sharing: words that offered little comfort to those who had given up everything to follow Jesus and might have, perhaps understandably, anticipated reward. Although Jesus speaks plainly enough, there was great reluctance to take on the import of his words. The disciples did not want to hear the outcome of which Jesus spoke. And, even though they were on their way to Jerusalem, their hope was for an outcome other than that of which Jesus spoke.
How ironic, then, that the narrative becomes embroiled in a discussion about who should sit on Jesus’ right or left in glory. The disciples do not want to contemplate Jesus’ death but James and John do want to ensure their place in glory. However, that is not something that Jesus can promise or deliver. Even if, as James and John affirm, they are able to endure the suffering that Jesus is about to endure, there are no guarantees that their reward will be as desired.
Jesus seizes the opportunity to reiterate his teaching on the first being last and the great being servants. Harsh words for us to consider in these days when entrepreneurship is encouraged and when competition in all things pervades society. And yet, there is a growing movement to have appreciation of wisdom and gifts that are often overlooked, a greater awareness that service is never one-sided but a mutual sharing of opportunity. This is all cold comfort for disciples who feel they are doing their bit and might reap some recompense for leaving all they knew behind them in order to follow Jesus.
Do we think that because we believe in Jesus that good things should come to us? Is that the reward of declaring ourselves to be followers of Jesus? How would we describe ourselves in words that are meaningful today?
Jay Robinson & Spill the Beans Issue 18