Tolpuddle and Puddletown
Sunday 21st October 2018
Isaiah 53.4-12; Mark 10.35-45
I wonder how many of you have experienced someone sidling up to you and asking coyly: “will you do me a favour?” or perhaps you’ve done it to others
It’s one of those questions that people ask one another, hoping for a yes, before they actually divulge what the favour is that they want.
Normally it’s something quite small, perhaps a lift to the station or to pick up something from the shop, but sometimes the request can be much larger. It’s dangerous to agree before knowing what you’ve chosen to commit yourself to, especially as people occasionally use this kind of method to con others out of quite large sums of money.
Jesus has a bit more sense. When James and John go to him and tell him that they want him to do what they ask, he doesn’t agree immediately.
How sensible! I wonder whether he hoped the two would realise how absurd their request would sound when they said it out loud.
James and John have managed to completely fail to understand what Jesus has been telling them about his future. In the run up to today’s passage, he has already told them twice that he is going to suffer. But they seem to have, stuck in their minds, an idea that Jesus is heading for glory, and a throne.
Jesus asks: “What is it that you want me to do for you?”
“We want to share your glory – we want to sit on your right and left sides when you’re enthroned.”
We can almost hear Jesus saying: “Oh, if only you knew . . . I’ve tried to tell you that it won’t all end in glory but in suffering, but you’ve not been listening. You’ve no idea what you’re asking. Can you really drink my cup?”
“Yes – we can,” they reply.
And, again he tries to instil in them the message that in the kingdom everything is upside down, and that true greatness is found in service, humility and love. Ambition for oneself has no place in God’s economy.
This part of Mark’s Gospel focuses very much on who Jesus is and what his vocation is? What does it mean to be Messiah? The picture that had been held by the Jewish people for so long was one of glory and victory, but the message Jesus was bringing didn’t fit with that at all.
His vocation was to lead to suffering and death, and as he called others to follow, he was leading towards a pathway of denying themselves and taking up their cross, through love and humility and service.
Jesus wasn’t just talking the talk; he was also walking the walk.
There were hints of what was to be the true pattern of God’s Messiahship right through the Old Testament, from the sacrifice of Isaac to the call of the prophet Isaiah. Our lectionary has laid aside the verses from the book of Isaiah today which describe the suffering servant with our passage from Mark – we see the parallels.
Jesus was wounded and crushed for us. He remained silent rather than fighting back. At death he was treated as a sinner, yet he had done no wrong. By his wounds, we have been made whole.
The disciples James and John weren’t able to see the links, couldn’t make the connections. They still wanted Jesus to be a glorious, triumphant leader, a man of victory who would crush the opposition.
But Jesus remained true to himself, to who he was and to his calling. He didn’t take the easy way out.
Like James and John, I think we often want to find the easy way round the commitments of our faith. Perhaps it’s not greatness and glory that appeal to us, but we too are tempted not to follow the way of the cross.
It’s hard when we live in a world that is so dominated by consumerism and experience. But things and experience, while we may enjoy them, are not long-lasting treasures. The path to lasting treasure may be a long and hard one.
We claim to follow Jesus – yet how much of our lives have we really handed over to him? Perhaps we think sometimes it would be so much easier if he were here in person to follow him, but I’m not so sure. The disciples seemed to find it pretty demanding at times. Do we really understand what following means?
How does your faith affect your daily life?
It’s relatively easy to come to church with our best faces on, and some people still wear their Sunday-best clothes.
We look the part, but what is going on underneath? But what happens when we go away? How does what we do here affect the rest of our lives?
How will the reading we heard about James and John’s ambition change our attitudes towards service and humility and love?
James and John revealed their ambition to Jesus. In doing so, they also reflected a lack of loyalty to the other disciples. They clearly saw themselves as worthy of a higher place at the table than anyone else, even Peter, the third member of the inner circle of disciples.
Their grasping at glory caused disloyalty, anger, and a rift in relations with the other disciples. How does our behaviour affect others?
Those who have made the decision to live as Christians are called to follow wholeheartedly – that means that it’s not just what we do or say that matters, it’s also the things we think.
Where will you be this time tomorrow? How will your approach or behaviour be different because you are a Christian?
What answer would you give if Jesus said to you right now: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Perhaps you’re feeling insecure and unloved. Perhaps you’re struggling with stress and an over busy diary. Maybe you feel you have too many demands on you.
Perhaps you’re struggling now that you are older with loneliness or feeling less useful than you were in past years because you can’t do what you used to do. Perhaps your body is aching and in pain. Maybe you’re at odds with someone and want to put things right.
What do you want Jesus to do for you now?
His response will come always from love and service. It may not be the answer we want, just as James and John didn’t get the answer they wanted.
It may be that rather than healing our pain, Jesus gives us the patience to focus on something else or the openness to empathise with others who suffer so we can be more powerful in our praying.
Perhaps if we are struggling with busyness and calling for fewer things in the diary, Jesus will help us to reorder our priorities so that we make more space for him in our day.
Perhaps in our loneliness, Jesus will become our presence.
Walking the way of Christ may mean we have to let go of some of the things we want for the sake of him. Perhaps there is someone in our loves who has done us a great harm or who has hurt us. Walking the way of Christ means asking for his strength to forgive. Perhaps we have something that makes us fearful coming up. Walking with Christ may mean not asking for it to go away but for the courage to get through it.
The response of Jesus will always be a response of love and grace.
This is our God,
the Servant King,
he calls us now
to follow him,
to bring our lives as a daily offering,
of worship to the Servant King.
There in the garden of tears,
my heavy load he chose to bear
his heart with sorrow was torn,
‘Yet not my will
but yours,’ he said.
So let us learn how to serve
and in our lives enthrone him,
each others’ needs to prefer
for it is Christ we’re serving.