The 21st Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 24B (Oct. 21, 2012)

Lessons:Isaiah 53:4-12 Psalm 91:9-16 Hebrews 5:1-10 St. Mark 10:35-45 Semicontinuous Series 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. Amen.

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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 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?” 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; 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.”

41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

St. Mark 10:35-45 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Able and Ready?

James and John, elsewhere referred to as “Sons of Thunder,” are bold, to say the least. Jesus has just again explained to them that faithfulness, for him, will involve being arrested, condemned, mocked, flogged, killed and raised (verses 33-34). No sooner has he finished speaking, than they approach him, and ask for his permission to be seated next to him in glory. In an exchange that looks and feels quite different to those of us who read after his suffering and death than it must have to them, he asks if they are able to share his fate, and they answer: “We are able.”

James and John think they are ready and able. Bold, to say the least! They have a picture in their minds of what his glory is going to look like, and the role they would prefer to play when that day comes. Yet St. Mark testifies that for Jesus, to be glorified — to be lifted up — means something entirely different than what the rest of the world (including James and John) presumes. James and John think they know, but they actually don’t know, which is one of the more dangerous forms of unknowing.

We, of course, think we know too. It is true: we have an edge over James and John. We know of the passion and death and resurrection of Jesus. We have witnessed signs of his continued presence among us. We have heard the promise that “...he will come [again] to judge the living and the dead.” Yet if we imagine that the purpose of this text is to illustrate the difference between us and those two disciples, we are confused about how Scripture works.

James and John erred in imagining that there would be a direct personal benefit to becoming a follower of Jesus Christ. There are those, today, who make similar claims. Receive Christ as Savior and you will experience a better life: better family relationships, better friendships, better income, better health… In actuality, even the most faithful among us grieve family struggles, painful relationships with friends, unemployment (or underemployment), poor health… But we make similar (if less pretentious) claims: life with Christ brings more hope, fellowship with Christian friends brings more joy, Biblical familiarity brings more peace, faithfulness in living brings more meaning…

Much of this may well happen for us, of course, but is not the central promise of the Gospel. The central promise is that when we are broken and without hope, we are not alone. When we are estranged from friends and families, there is One who always walks with us. When we stand at the gate of death, we do so without fear.

Being a disciple of the one arrested, condemned, mocked, flogged, killed and raised may very well not cause us to incur direct personal benefit. But it does assure us of this one thing: In the deepest, darkest corners of our lives, the light of Christ continues to shine. In the brokenness of this world, from which none of us is immune — not a single one of us — we have a God who speaks our name. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for the promise that has shaped our lives. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Thanks be to God.


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What did James and John imagine when they considered Jesus’ glory?
  2. What were they asking him to grant them?
  3. How do Jesus’ words reframe the way believers have understood his glory?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What direct personal benefit had I hoped to receive from my faith?
  2. When have I experienced God in the midst of difficulty?
  3. Who has been the presence of God in my life during a significant time?