Going up to Jerusalem Reflections 10-13-21

Texts for Sunday October 18
21st Sunday after Pentecost 

Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

Oddly, the lectionary skips over a section of the text that sets the scene for this week’s selection from the Gospel of Mark. These are the skipped verses right before today’s reading:

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.” Mark 10:32-34

This the third time in Mark in just three chapters where Jesus tells his disciples that they are headed to Jerusalem and that what will happen there isn’t going to be pretty. The first two times that Jesus shares this news, it is evident that his disciples really don’t get what he is saying. Or perhaps refuse to hear what he is saying. And this third time their response is…Inappropriate? Confusing? Rude? Additionally, “the reader” (that’s you and me) sees all these scenes through the eyes of someone who already knows the ending. Jesus’ description seems spot on to us which makes the question – and their answer to Jesus’ question - from James and John seem foolish at best.

Hint: You want to know who is on Jesus right and left when this happens? Read Mark 15:27.

After the first prediction (Mark 8:31-32) Peter rebukes Jesus for saying such a non-Messiah-like thing. He was probably picturing a power grab from Rome through conflict and violence. After the second prediction (Mark 9:30-32) from Jesus, the whole group had a debate as to which one of them was the greatest, probably thinking about all the power and prestige that comes with leadership in the new government that Jesus will establish. And now we hear the question from James and John asking that they be given a special place in the heavenly court when Jesus is in glory.

The disciples' vision moves from earthly conquest and violence, to earthly power and prestige, to now, insiders’ pride and privilege eternally*. Jesus instead exposes the reality of evil – systemic and personal – and enters into that reality on the cross.

Predictably the rest of the disciples hear about the conversation and loudly protest, not the misunderstanding but rather the fact James and John asked first.

So, Jesus explains once again that, in the Kingdom of God, things are different; the first will be last and the last first; you must be vulnerable in God’s kingdom; and you must be servant, even slave of all to be “great”.

Although I shake my head and roll my eyes at the question from James and John and “tsk, tsk” at their foolishness, if I'm honest, I don’t fully understand what Jesus is about. Or more honestly maybe, I may get it, but prefer to pretend that I don’t.... it's the cross.

In the cross, we believe that God through Jesus intentionally suffers with and for those who are broken, oppressed, and marginalized (vulnerable). We need to recognize that occasionally that might describe us. More importantly (and probably more often), we also need to recognize that we are among those who live at the “center”, who break, who oppress, who push others to the margins. Power, prestige, and prejudice almost drips off many of those called Christians in the US.

So, to follow Jesus is to also enter into the suffering of those who are broken, oppressed and marginalized. It is to follow Jesus to the cross. Through the cross, Jesus’ death liberates people from their isolated self-centered pride and their self-made plans for glory. He replaces all that with love which will not be deterred.

* Notes: 
1) Most of what I know about the Gospel of Mark is what Dr. Schein taught me at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Columbus Ohio

2) The SALT “Strange New World” podcast episode on this passage “Understanding Jesus - Part Six: Free to Go” helped me shape the descriptions I use above about the disciples responses.

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Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

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Iowa City, IA 52245