Monday, October 15, 2012

The Suffering of the Cross, the Son of Man and His Wayward Disciples. Homily for MARK 10:35-45


Homily for 10.21.12
MARK 10:35-45  (see below)
Year B








In today's Lectionary Gospel reading from St. Mark we hear from the mouth of Jesus himself the most succinct theological understanding of the Cross.

The occasion for this statement by the Son of Man is the ongoing dispute between the disciples as to just who is the greatest among them. You will recall St. Mark introduced this disagreement to us back in Chapter 9:
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." (Mk.9:33-35)
This time, however, James and John leave Peter out of the discussion all together:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"  They answered him, "Grant that in your glory  we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Well, OK, then; there you have it. Way to go guys! The values and greed that make up the systems of the world now come out clearly within the very heart of Jesus’ Kingdom team and his inner circle.

“When you come in come into your glory,” indeed.

James and John believe because Jesus now moves toward Jerusalem he means to head to his glory, his triumph, the establishment of the promised Kingdom-vindication of Israel. How they understand this from Jesus' statement of his coming death really is beyond me. Anyway, clearly they desire to sit in the places of power and honor when Jesus soon comes to his throne, and oh what a glorious time it will be!

But, I wonder, what will Jesus' throne room look like, really, and who will actually end up sitting beside him?

In complete and an utterly planned irony, St. Mark would have us know that Jesus' throne is a cross, and those beside him are brigands,
And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15:27)
and as R.T France reminds us, at this the point in time of Jesus’ right and true glory, James and John are nowhere to be found.
Anyway, Jesus' response to this request is vital for us to think-through, and would take more than one homily to assign a full understanding. But let us try to hit the highlights under the following two headings:

THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF MAN

THE SUFFERING OF THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS


THE SUFFERING OF THE SON OF MAN
"Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 
Just what is the cup and what is this baptism facing Jesus, and what does the cup and the baptism mean not only for James and John, but the entire world, for that is the scope and scale that Mark has in mind?
The Cup.

Jesus will alluded to this cup later in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 14:36), but it seems a clear metaphor from the Hebrew Bible. One example from Jeremiah will have to suffice here:
15 For thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and go out of their minds because of the sword that I am sending among them. 17 So I took the cup from the Lord's hand, and made all the nations to whom the Lord sent me drink it: 18 Jerusalem and the towns of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, an object of hissing and of cursing, as they are today; (Jeremiah 25:15-18)
The cup, then is the cup of GOD’s wrath, the cup of GOD’s bitter judgement for both the nations and the world. And this wrath and this judgement will be falling upon Jesus when he is confronted by the powers of darkness and empire in Jerusalem. It is the summation of all this is evil and hateful, and deserving of GOD’s wrath!
The Baptism. 

The baptism metaphor is less clear, but one commentator offered the idea that Jesus is to be baptized in the waters of violence and death, and therefore is to be plunged under the waves of suffering. This rings true, and it follows well with the bitter sufferings the Jesus already described -- “rejection, slain, then (and only, then) raised (Mk.8).

First, this cup and this baptism means we must see the cross as GOD's response to my sins and the sins of the world. At the end of our text Jesus declares:
"For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
That is, Jesus flatly describes the offering of his life as a substitute for many as the culmination of his calling. N.T. Wright reminds us, the Jesus story has the cross at its very heart; "it is the climax of his thought-out vocation."

Or, again quoting R.T.France, this time concerning verse 45:
"...the clearest statement of the purpose of his own coming death. Hitherto Jesus has spoken of its necessity, but now he offers a new perspective on the concept of messianic suffering which sets what might otherwise have been seen as a meaningless tragedy in the context of the redemptive purpose of God. This is not a setback to Jesus' mission, a victory for his opponents; it is what he came for." (pg. 409)
It was no accident of fate, therefore, that led Jesus to the cross, but the fulfillment of a calling that moved him to initiative this confrontation with the powers of darkness in their very structural home, that of the empire. To give his life as a ransom meant he freely offers his life to secure the world’s release whether from slavery as in the nation’s exodus or from captivity to the sins and structural evil that enslaves each human heart.

At its very base Jesus dies to free all those who wish to be included, to come along and follow him toward a truly human way to live, the way we were designed to live all along. Thus, the individual’s ransom involves the broken body and shed blood of the cross, and the new life and the new way to live of the resurrection

But, there is, of course, more to the ransoming act of GOD in Christ through the cross than the individual’s forgiveness. We must ask what will be the response of GOD to the presence and ongoing power of evil? Just me and my sins forgiven? It that all that GOD is about?

Hardly.

No, in the cross GOD is doing something much larger than dealing with just me and my sin, though of course that is part of it because my sins are real and I'm part of the evil of the world. The cross, quoting N.T. Wright again, was GOD’s way of "standing how the world works on its head,” turning the internal mechanism of greed and hate and lust and violence and all the rest "upside down and inside out!"  

The cross isn’t just about individual forgiveness. It is about the final defeat of the powers of darkness that coalesced that day around that very cross in order to kill a young Jewish prophet, but in his apparent defeat through suffering and death grew the seeds of the final victory of GOD’s Kingdom through his resurrection!

This is evidenced in the statement from the text where Jesus explains how GOD’s Kingdom works and how the kingdoms of this world work:
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."
This means that a new way to be human will be secured through the cross and must be translated into flesh and blood people, displayed for all to see. Something the disciples just didn’t get at all.



THE SUFFERING OF THE DISCIPLES OF JESUS
"Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 
 Jesus asks James and John. That is, can you taste the bitterness and the barrenness that I am about to experience, do you have it in you? 

“We can,” they respond, having no earthly idea what this could mean.

And Jesus says as much:
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Should we say it? These guys are fools. They have little insight toward self-assessment and no understanding of Jesus’ mission. But, they will soon enough. Soon enough they will know the bitterness of the cup hastening toward them and the barrenness of the approaching baptism. And, lest we think too highly of ourselves, of course, we are not far behind them, I’m afraid. We often overestimate our ability to understand Jesus, as well as the level of our commitment to his present work in the world.

What happens next is both astounding and tragic, for a big fight breaks out among the disciples:
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
How this must have grieved the heart of Jesus. Here on the eve of his passion, and just the time when he needs them together most, they are divided and angry and...well...living out the very values that Jesus is pushing against with such force.

These men must somehow come to see beyond their petty desires for power and prestige. They must take up the cause of true humanness. They men must become, like their leader, the servants of all. And they will, for their own suffering is not far off...
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..."
This is the future that will change these men; this is the moment when they finally understand in its full power the calling and cause toward which Jesus is now determined to offer his own life -- to give his life as a ransom for many. This truth and this reality, be become all too personal, and it will fall hard on them. And they will respond just as he did. They will become part of the new humanity, the Kingdom people walking the Kingdom way. May this be true of us as well...



_______________________________

MARK 10:35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him,
"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you."
He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?"
They answered him, "Grant that in your glory
we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."
Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink
or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
They said to him, "We can."
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 or at my left is not mine to give
but is for those for whom it has been prepared."
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John.
Jesus summoned them and said to them,
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles
lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you.
Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."