It is easy for us to be sure someone else is missing the point, whether we are reading scripture, or deciding about priorities for church and community service. When we are honest we often admit that it is far too easy for US to miss the point too.
Disciples James and John had an ‘adventure in missing the point’ in today’s story in Mark’s gospel. Whether they were ever able to really ‘get it’ is not part of our story. But we have an idea from Jesus’ words to them that in the future their lives, (or the cup they will drink) will mirror his own fate. Their problem was the same as ours. We are conditioned by our culture to accept what is important and what (and who) should come first.
Jesus turns our priorities on their head putting 1st last and last first.
Anyone whose attended church more than a couple times, knows that Christians are to put Christ first. . .But it is easier said than done. Think about the typical priorities we live with.
Job priorities - Along with potential advancements
Family - often includes children’s priorities
Entertainment - sports (participant or spectator) shows: movies & TV, books
Social - dinners, coffee’s, get togethers with friends
Church - worship, education classes, along with commitments; committee work and
Service - which may be church-related or community service
SELF - self-care, time away for renewal, rest, exercise
Family, Job, Social, Entertainment, Church, Service, Self, are all large items on our calendars that tend to fill to the point of conflicts. When you get pressed with too much to do, Which of these things drops off your list first?
Do you Skip work? Or Cancel dinner plans with friends?
Maybe skip your volunteer stint this week at the hospital or AFAC?
Perhaps you’d prefer to Skip the gym or miss that regular manicure and hair cut?
Are you willing to Tell your kids the family ISN”T going away this weekend because your schedule is over-full?
Would you skip church?
. . .
What we skip first is at the bottom of our priority list and what we’d NEVER skip is at the top. It is our cultural way of putting LAST, first! How much has YOUR list been determined by culture’s expectations compared to how you list is prioritized based on Jesus’ expectations?
Today’s focus is on serving others.
We’ve thanked our volunteers, recognized the work of each other. We would agree that Jesus showed that people were very important on his list. . Yet, remember, Jesus’ FIRST priority was always God, “Love God with heart, soul, mind & strength...THEN love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus’ priority was God. That meant attending synagogue and going to the Temple on ‘high holy days’ - even when doing so put him in danger. We often recall Jesus confrontations and arguments with religious leaders but those disagreements didn’t turn him away from his faith. We may forget that he followed regular Jewish practices of worship and offerings because this was and IS one of the ways to show love for God.
If we think that Jesus came to dispose of worship practices WE’D be ‘missing the point’.
Mark’s story about James and John is meant to open our eyes to Jesus’ priorities, especially as they compare to culture’s priorities or more to the point, - to help us see how Jesus would rearrange OUR priorities.
So far (by chapter 10) in Mark’s gospel, Jesus has said three times that his way of life is leading him towards suffering and death. In fact he has just finished saying, “ Look! ” - “ We’re going up to Jerusalem. The Human One w will be handed over to the chief priests and the legal experts. They will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles. 34 They will ridicule him, spit on him, torture him, and kill him. After three days, he will rise up. ” (ch. 10:32-34)
How incredible is it that James and John follow these ominous words with their request to sit on either side of Jesus in his glory?
One commentator1 wondered if the other disciples laughed before they got mad, thinking James and John had to be cracking a joke... ... then they realized the brothers were serious. .
But we also have to look at their conversation in the context of Mark’s entire story, which was written as a persuasive story of GOOD NEWS, for all people.
As I said earlier, in Mark, Jesus tells of the extreme probability of his suffering and arrest as ‘predictions’ of what will come. In Mark we are meant to note that just before the first prediction and just following this last prediction, Jesus opens the eyes of 2 different blind men. These are not insignificant details but are meant to illustrate a larger truth.2
Our eyes CAN be opened beyond the priorities of the world when we allow Jesus to touch us. . . His Touch is what we need to be ‘healed’ of the blindness that infects us when we spend day after day immersed in what the world says is important. Without him, we will miss the point - of our lives!
Charles Campbell, a commentator, suggests the Jesus’ words about James and John, “that you WILL drink the cup I drink..” is not a threat or a prediction but an “extraordinary promise”. What if Jesus meant, “You, James and John, will not always be driven by your fears and your need for security. Rather, you will be empowered to take up your cross and follow me - faithful disciples even to the end.”3
What will it take for US to hear Jesus’ words as a promise? What touch from Christ, what encouragement from this Christian body do you need? What companionship in service will help you turn the world’s priorities for your life - RIGHT-SIDE-UP?
You know the story of Dirk Wilhelm? He was a 16th century Dutch Anabaptist who was kept in prison because he wouldn’t give up his specific christian faith that valued believer’s baptism and non-violence. Anabaptist style Christianity wasn’t acceptable to the early Christian reformers in Europe and so he and many others were persecuted by other protestants.
Dirk Welhelm was arrested, but he managed to escape by making a rope from cloth and slipping thru the prison bars due to his emaciated state from being imprisoned. He slid down the prison wall, but was spotted as he ran across the countryside. A guard followed him. “Dirk’s path of escape was an ice-covered pond. HE risked it and crossed the thin ice safely. - after all he didn’t weigh much, but the better fed prison guard who was chasing him, broke thru the ice into the frigid water.
Dirk could’ve asked,
Was this God's rescue? Had God indeed delivered him from his enemies? For Dirk it was a call to help someone in need. He dared to believe Jesus's teaching to love even one's enemies. He turned back and rescued the guard- his enemy. Dirk was arrested again and placed in a more secure prison. He was later burned at the stake near his native village, Asperen, in 1569. (jes)4
What would the world, his culture or ours have told him to do? In a movie we see a “YES” and he’d run off the the cheers of the audience as the guard disappeared under the water. But the Jesus’ Way called for Dirk’s action of saving service, ‘another cup, he had to drink’ a different kind of ‘baptism to receive’ - as Jesus said.
Most of us will never be asked to make such a severe choice about our priorities. We won’t be arrested for our faith. We won’t have to face our enemy drowning in a frozen pond. Our choices are much simpler.
- choices about our money and how we will spend it
- choices about our time and how we will use it
Simple, non-life-threatening choices.
But for US, baptized into a culture of ‘self first, it is a hard choice to put OTHERS 1st.
I sometimes think it is even harder to put God first - above all. . Yet that IS the central message of the Jesus’ Way.
Loving the Lord, our God with all our heart, all our being, all our mind, all our strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.
“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant.” Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, 45 for the Human One x didn’t come to BE served but rather TO serve and to give his life to liberate many people. ”1 Charles Campbell Homiletical Feasting on the word Bartlett & Taylor eds, (Louisville:WJK, 2009)193
2 Rolf Jacobson of Luther Seminary writing at workingpreacher.org
3 Campbell Feasting p.193