Job 38:1-7, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45
In the name of God; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Change unnerves me. I just don’t like it. When something big, life altering is going to happen, I like to sit with it for a while and mull it over. I like to daydream a bit, imagining what the change might look like. I love to think about the possibilities and wonder aloud to whomever will listen.
The process of discernment is comfortable, like a favorite coffee mug, or comfy chair in the corner. I like to think about my options, read up on the latest techniques, and weigh the pros and cons. Check lists and outlines help tame the uncertainty and make things a little easier.
So, when the owner of our rental house told us ten days ago that he was selling our house and we would need to move as soon as possible, I didn’t handle it very well.
Buying our house wasn’t an option, so we had to decide whether to continue renting or begin house shopping immediately.
My gut reaction to radical change like this is fear, terror even, sleeplessness, and twitching. My carefully thought out 5-year plan was shattered by a five minute phone call. And there we were, left to pick up the pieces.
What I needed to calm my twitching eyelid and relax my clenched muscles wasn’t a massage or a cocktail, but rather assurance that everything would be okay. “It’ll be okay,” I often hear my 2-year-old daughter tell her dolls and stuffed animals. Ten days ago, I needed to hear that myself.
It’ll be okay.
And now, ten days later, of course it is alright. We jumped in headfirst and started looking at houses, talking to realtors and lenders, and in just a few short weeks, we will close on our first house in Seattle.
The all too familiar feeling of panic is one I recognize in today’s text from Mark’s gospel. Jesus has just finished telling his disciples for the third time that he will soon die and be resurrected.
The immediately preceding verses to the part we heard about James and John say:
“They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”(Mark 10:32-34)
The disciples’ response to this prediction, even after hearing it on three separate occasions, is shock, disbelief, and fear. Confronted with the news that the authorities will soon execute their friend and teacher, they are overwhelmed with fear and simply want some assurance that somehow, eventually, if not in this world than the next, that everything will be okay. “It’ll be okay,” they want to hear.
But they are misguided and blinded by selfish desire. James and John, brothers, step forward and say to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” This request sounds childish and silly, but I think it came from a place of fear, not hubris.
They go on, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
Let’s pause for a moment. Given what we have heard so far, what can you surmise about the brothers’ character? Are you concerned for their souls? Are you a little nervous about the state of their character formation? I am.
What they are really asking is for Jesus to comfort and reassure them, which he does. Jesus tells them, “It’ll be okay.” You will be with me and I will be with you, as you are now because this is the kingdom of God.
And in the kingdom of God, character has impact whether it can be measured or not. Habits of the heart matter and we believe that character is formed one way or another, accidentally or intentionally.
James and John’s character was being formed in every exchange they had with Jesus. As they followed him from town to town, from the Sea of Galilee to the mountain where he was transfigured, and all the way down to Jerusalem, habits of the heart were being shaped and conditioned each step of the way.
Now, they are bumping up against the end, which is really only the beginning, and they are frightened. And so, the question for us – today – is: Where do you see yourself in this story? Do you see yourself in James and John? Do you see yourself among the other ten who are frustrated and embarrassed by the brothers? Do you see yourself in Jesus as he follows his heart and tries to take his friends along with him?
We all live in the mutual indwelling of Christ and his people whether we recognize it or not. Our character is currently being shaped and formed in the ways we serve God and one another.
The other question is this: are we managing our character formation or not? If we aren’t, we need to listen to Jesus’ words to the brothers and take them to heart ourselves.
Jesus says, “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 hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
In other words, “It’ll be okay.” You will be with me and I will be with you, as you are now because this is the kingdom of God, but it may not look like what you think it will look like.
Mark’s gospel is summarized succinctly in these few verses. We see Jesus’ journey to the cross. We hear foreshadowing of his suffering and death. The daft disciples agitate us and we hear once again an edict on the reversal of power.
Jesus’ final statement in this passage is a powerful one. It is the only time in this gospel in which Jesus says something about his purpose. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (10:45). The Greek word for ransom is lytron and in this context it means, “buying freedom” for many. That is what Jesus has done for us.
As Dallas Willard says in The Divine Conspiracy, “We are apprentices to Jesus, preparing to take our place in the ongoing creativity of the universe.” And as apprentices, we prepare by taking responsibility for the formation of our character.
We exercise self-discipline, which creates habits of the heart that shape and form our character. These habits of the heart are daily prayer, attending weekly worship, loving and serving our neighbors, and many other things all of which prepare us for God’s kingdom.