Friday of Lent V – Mark 10:32-45

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up 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 do 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 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And 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 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

I have a neighbor who is very afraid. He was terribly afraid of the recent pandemic virus. He is also afraid of the vaccine. What will he do? He does not know. Down the street is another fellow who has built a veritable fortress of a front yard so his children could come out and play in safety behind its lofty berm topped by a stout wooden wall. Another neighbor is afraid that the governor was using the pandemic to seize power and constrain our constitutional liberties. Yet another neighbor was afraid because her husband of many years has developed dementia and can barely carry on a conversation anymore. They just retired. He is not that old and may live for some time. What will she do?

It says that they were amazed and those who followed were afraid. Mark often puts that little bit into his gospel account. We think this means his original audience was afraid. Were they being persecuted? Many conclude as much. But Mark does not write to halt their persecution. He writes to their fear. The cross looms large in this Gospel account. It does not go away. Instead, in Mark, it becomes the path to overcoming the fear and the fearsome enemy.

John and James do not understand this. Do we? They wanted glorious places in the kingdom of God. Did they realize that Jesus would come into his glory on cross, with a malefactor on either side writhing in crucified agony? No, they did not. Are my prayers any less foolish? Jesus offers us an insight into the kingdom. It turns the world upside-down. The servant of all, Jesus, is the greatest. We know that the early Christian message was readily heard and accepted by slaves, women, and others who occupied the lower rungs of society. They often were made to serve. Contrary to the way it felt, they were already on top in God’s eyes. In the world, no one was lower than a crucified man. It was a punishment reserved for the slaves.

The recent pandemic and our responses to it have revealed that we have not so controlled the world in which we live as we would like to imagine. We are subject to forces which are most often outside our control. We can build our compounds and claw for control, but we will lose it eventually. Jesus offers us another way, God’s way. The servants are important ones in that kingdom. Jesus is the king because he has given his life for all. I do not know what the pandemic will bring. It may bring death. If it does not kill you, something else will. Die serving. Jesus did.

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