Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Left and Right

Mark 10:35-45
October 18, 2015
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Some of you may be aware that much of the time, our scripture selections follow a list of suggested readings called the Revised Common Lectionary. That is a three year cycle of readings selected by an international committee called “The Consultation on Common Texts.” This cycle of readings allows for a church that follows it to cover most of the Bible over a three year period. Sometimes, the readings pair up an Old Testament reading with a gospel reading, and other times there are readings from the epistles. Every week there is a Psalm. Many churches that follow the lectionary use all of the readings every Sunday. In our worship, when we are following the lectionary, we generally use only one or two of the readings.

We tend to follow the lectionary during the school year, because in Christian Education the children and youth can then be studying and learning from the same scripture lessons we use in worship. It literally keeps us all on the same page. In today’s reading we are continuing with the Gospel of Mark, and we are in the 10th chapter AGAIN as we have been for several weeks and as we will be again next week! But for some reason, the framers of the Revised Common Lectionary chose to leave out the verses that come between last week’s reading and this one! I’m going to include them, because with them, this story makes a lot more sense.

If you remember, all through this tenth chapter, Jesus has been on the road with the disciples. What you may not know or remember is that they are on the road to Jerusalem. If you read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting, the tenth chapter would be the place where you begin to get a deep sense of foreboding. This tenth chapter would be the place where you would begin to realize that this journey to Jerusalem will be the last trip Jesus makes. In the very next chapter, chapter eleven, Jesus and the twelve disciples have arrived in Jerusalem, and they are untying a donkey and he is getting ready to ride into town in a parade. If that sounds like Palm Sunday, that’s because it is.

So they have been making their way to Jerusalem, and they’ve stopped a time or two for some controversy with the religious leaders, and they’ve done some preaching and healing.

And what is crucial about the part that gets left out, the part I’m going to read to you,
is that this is the THIRD time Jesus has told them this, in Mark 10:32-34

"They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again."

This little episode is called a “passion prediction” -- the THIRD one.
Each of the prior two times, they have responded with an argument! This is important, for reasons that will become clear shortly. Listen now, for God’s word to you, in today’s gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, Mark 10:35-45.

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.”
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.”

The word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

You can see why tempers would start to fray at this point. The tension has been building for a while now. They have been traveling – walking, mind you –for several days. They have left homes, families, familiar routines, daily occupations. They have given up everything to follow Jesus, which is what they said when they protested in last week’s story. Twice before, Jesus has told them that he is going to be arrested, beaten, and killed, and that after three days, he will rise again.

The first time he told them was in Mark, chapter eight. Jesus had just fed four thousand people with seven loaves of bread. He told them quite openly that he would be arrested and killed, but after three days he would rise again. Peter didn’t like this -- tried to get him to hush. Jesus answered and said “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

The second time Jesus made this prediction, they were passing through Galilee, right after the transfiguration on the mountaintop, and after another miraculous healing. This time, the disciples respond by getting into an argument. They argue among themselves about who is the greatest. That was when Jesus answered them saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” And then he set a little child among them and said “whoever welcomes this child welcomes me.” That was in chapter nine.

So, now, I’m getting really exasperated with them, because here in chapter ten, he has told them a third time, and they STILL DON’T GET IT! I don’t know how much time elapses between chapters eight, nine, and the last part of chapter ten, but it can’t have taken them years and years to pass through Galilee and across the Jordan into Judea and up to Jerusalem. Seriously – how many times does he have to tell them this?

What must have been infuriating for Jesus is that once again, after he tells them this awful and wonderful future, they start arguing about who is the top dog! I mean, REALLY!

And they are like children, asking a parent – “Will you give us what we ask?”
Jesus isn’t falling for that! He asks them, “What do you want me to do for you?”
(Spoiler alert – he is going to ask the blind man the same thing, next week.)

What do you want me to do for you?

Do they want a double portion of his spirit?
Do they want him to bless them?
Do they need a clarification on a fine point of the law?
Do they need a stone turned to bread, or loved one to be healed?

They want to know, “Jesus, when you are in your glory, can we be on your right and your left?” Do we get places of honor, like prime minister and secretary of state?

Can you imagine that scene? Makes me want to scream at them: “Are you not listening?”
Jesus, however he may have been feeling, does not yell at them. Instead, he asks them if they think they can drink from the cup he is about to receive. Yes, sure, yep, oh yeah, Jesus, we are SO up for that. You betcha.

In my less noble moments, I wish Jesus had answered them “Yes! As a matter of fact, after we get to Jerusalem and I get taken to the palace, you can certainly be on my right and my left.” Because you know who ended up on the right side and the left side of Jesus, when he came into his glory. But Jesus is not angry. He is able to explain it to them once again.

The other ten disciples, however, are angry, thinking that James and John have budged the line, and tried to get ahead of them. If only they had been listening! Who would crowd ahead of someone else in order to be persecuted, in order to be flogged and spit on, and crucified? Nobody wants to be at the head of that line! Nobody even wants to be IN that line!

But with infinite love, and endless patience, Jesus tries again to make them understand, tries again a third time to let them know what it would mean to be on the right and the left of him: “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.”

Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun at all, does it?
Who would want to be on the right and left of that?

In the run up to the 2016 election, we’ve been hearing an awful lot about the right and left.
Conservative, right-leaning Christians would have you believe that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian. And liberal, left-leaning Christians would shout just as loudly that the conservative, right-wing Christians are not Christian at all.

But in Jesus’ definition, right and left mean something else altogether. In the life of a disciple of Jesus, it all ends up at Golgotha. So whether you want to be on the right or the left, following Jesus means that somehow, you end up on a cross.

Most of us have a long way to go before we would have the courage to die with him.
For most of us, the cruciform life is more about the other things within us that need to die –selfishness, arrogance, pride, ambition, greed. If our politics are informed by our faith, by following Jesus, the meaning of left and right will change. If we are listening to Jesus, and not what someone says the Bible says (even if that someone is me) we’ll have different definitions of glory and honor.

In Jesus’ definition, to be his disciple means that you aren’t on the right or left, but right there in the center, with him. Following him is a cruciform life – that is, life in the shape of a cross. Following Jesus is not about climbing to the top of the mountain, and looking down on everyone else from your pinnacle of success. Following Jesus is about climbing up the hill called Golgotha, and giving your very life as a sacrifice.

Drinking from the cup he offers, that cup of the new covenant, is to care more about loving than being loved, to be concerned more about forgiving than being forgiven. To be baptized with him is to be willing to die with him, and to be raised with him. To live like him is to serve like him. When we follow Jesus, we walk with him to the cross at calvary, serve like him to the least of all,
share like him,
give like him,
love like him.

Whether your politics lean left or right, your life belongs to Jesus,
the one who is at the center, who came not to be served, but to serve.
Thanks be to God.


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