This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news
JUDGEMENT DAY FOR BERLUSCONI, THE FALL AFTER THE PRIDE
J.B. Phillips New Testament (PHILLIPS)
The last journey to Jerusalem begins
32 They were now on their way up to Jerusalem and Jesus walked on ahead. The disciples were dismayed at this, and those who followed were afraid. Then once more he took the twelve aside and began to tell them what was going to happen to him.
33-34 “We are now going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “as you can see. And the Son of Man will be betrayed into the power of the chief priests and scribes. They are going to condemn him to death and hand him over to pagans who will jeer at him and spit at him and flog him and kill him. But after three days he will rise again.”
An ill-timed request
35 Then Zebedee’s two sons James and John approached him, saying “Master, we want you to grant us a special request.”
36 “What do you want me to do for you?” answered Jesus.
37 “Give us permission to sit one on each side of you in the glory of your kingdom!”
38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. “Can you drink the cup I have to drink? Can you go through the baptism I have to bear?”
39-40 —“Yes, we can,” they replied. Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink the cup I am drinking, and you will undergo the baptism which I have to bear! But as for sitting on either side of me, that is not for me to give—such places belong to those for whom they are intended.”
41-45 When the other ten heard about this, they began to be highly indignant with James and John; so Jesus called them all to him, and said, “You know that the so-called rulers in the heathen world lord it over them, and their great men have absolute power. But it must not be so among you. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others free.
Mark depicts the truth about Jesus’ ministry in the words, “Jesus walked on ahead.” He has already announced his forthcoming arrest and death, and begun the march to Jerusalem. Mark shows a Jesus who understands what is going to happen to him but is determined to carry the message of the Kingdom to the heart of Judaea. He knows that there will be religious and political opposition which will seek his life. Jesus described his ill-treatment at the hands of the Romans in words taken from scripture, because he believes that both his actions and his sufferings are fulfilment of prophecy.
Mark means the reader to understand how crass in this context is the request of James and John, who look forward to the victory of their Messiah and want assurances about their status.
Jesus deals with them:
1. He insists that discipleship involves suffering. It may be that the images of cup and immersion had already been used for suffering before Jesus’ passion; more likely that Mark is using words which only became common currency in the first churches. The cup represents the willingness of the sufferer; it must be drunk; whereas the immersion represents the passivity of the sufferer; the water closes over his head.
2. He promises the pair that they will share his suffering, but that places at the victory banquet are the business of God.
3. He teaches them that discipleship means service. The verbs used of the gentile rulers are indicative of pride and power. That sort of leadership cannot be part of Jesus’ community where leadership involves service and status means servitude. There is no escaping Jesus’ scorn for the leadership based on raw power over men and women. This passage ought to be printed as a motto in all places where church leaders gather. Jesus refers to the Son of Man, which means the holy ones of God who inaugurate the humane kingdom of God. It is a collective term but is used by Jesus in the knowledge that he will have to “go ahead” of others, offering his life as the payment which will set others free. If we ask to whom the payment is made the answer must be the powers of evil. The theology which saw God as requiring this ransom proposes a travesty of his character. The word “many” echoes Isaiah 53:11-12, and may point towards the gentiles as well as Jews.
The picture Mark gives is unsparing in all respects. Jesus is utterly firm and ruthless in his commitment to God’s rule. Humility, service and readiness to suffer are set out as requirements for disciples. Human rule, as exemplified by the gentile kingdoms is scorned as both arrogant and trivial. Jesus is shown marking out the true way by his own body, which is out in front of his disciples and will suffer insult and death. The body of Jesus as a channel of God’s goodness is emphasised throughout Mark’s gospel, especially in his healing stories. I am reminded of the KJV words from the first letter of Peter which I learned and sang as a boy chorister, “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.” Mark wants to show that neither our salvation nor our discipleship is solely spiritual, but involves the bodily life of believers as well as that of their Lord.
Mark’s Gospel is a great narrative of the saving rigour of Jesus and of the rigorous discipline required by his followers. Prideful power must be eradicated in modest service.