Preacher: The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia
In today’s gospel from Mark – the Good News—is put in a way that seems a little less that good. Not only do we learn, through the machinations of Jesus’ disciples James and John, that sitting on the right and left hand of God might not meet our early expectations of power and glory – but the best friends of Jesus are not even guaranteed a front row seat.
Continuing on the heels of last week’s gospel about the rich young man who Jesus sent away grieving when he realized that if he wanted assurance of eternal life – it would cost him all his worldly goods. And coming after Jesus’ revelation, just as he and his disciples begin their journey to Jerusalem, that he will there be handed over to the chief priests and scribes and sentenced to death. It might come as no surprise that if we want to get to the good news, we are going to have to hear the bad news first. And the bad news is – whatever you do, however hard you plan, whatever school you go to or how many things you accomplish, you don’t get to control everything. Secondly, the good you do in life may not only not be recognized but sometimes might bring as much pain as reward.
Now isn’t this a cheerful way to start this Sunday morning? Huh? I’m a bearer of bad news – an official rainer, not Rainier mind, but rainer-on-the-parade – the burster of bubbles. But sometimes to get to the good news, you got to go through the bad
And my trip through this seeming bad news/good News frame of mind led me to think, as of course it will , about an old movie from 1987 called Moonstruck. Anyone ever seen that movie? —well for those who haven’t, it’s a movie starring Cher and Nicholas Cage in which the lead character Loretta Castorini Clark inconveniently falls in love with the estranged brother of her fiancé when she goes to persuade him to attend their wedding. Well, it was a favorite movie of my mother’s. One of those movies we watched again and again. So, when I moved to New York City to attend General Seminary, my friend Clay and I could often be found Inserting lines from the movie into our conversations….” In the lunch line by the utensils – “Chrissy Bring me the big knife! No Ronny I won’t do it!..she wont do it…” …. Loretta and her family, fictional though they were, have always walked with me in New York City. The first time I went to the Metropolitan opera, I remember feeling like Loretta who viewed it with the same awe as I did. And years later, when I first moved back to the City and into Brooklyn Heights I made a pilgrimage to 19 Cranberry Street where the film’s Castarini family was to have lived. Why? It is just a romantic comedy – which as a rule, I don’t love. But the movie is odd in a way that rings true. It is on one level a Hollywood love story like any other – but on another it is about the unlikely paths that love takes and the crazy ways love works.
One of my favorite exchanges from the movie takes place between the two main characters Ronny Cammareri and Loretta —Ronny says to Loretta at what was the beginning of their love story: “You ruined my life” to which she replies, “That’s impossible! It was ruined when I got here! *You* ruined *my* life!”
I wonder if that was what the disciples, too, were thinking as they began their journey towards Jerusalem. After having left everything to follow Jesus, they receive this not-so-great news from Jesus – “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,[who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age— persecutions to make up for it—but don’t worry –in the age to come you’ll get eternal life.” This is coupled with the news that things didn’t look too rosy for their future in Jerusalem. I can only imagine how frightening and perplexing that time must have been. And so, while it is easy for us to say all judgey -like– oh James and John what were you thinking sidling up to Jesus and trying to get him to promise you something like the glory that you had imagined—well, they were, indeed, facing the very real possibility of death—and we gotta admit that is something that the majority of us would rather avoid. So, is it any wonder that they might be seeking some kind of reassurance and consolation for all that we had left behind?
But that is not what they get. Not only do they receive no consolation for all they left behind, Jesus says out loud that their future, at least in the short term, is going to be difficult. They left everything for Jesus – and they get something about the first being last and the last being first?
Peter and James and John had all left good jobs as fishermen to follow Jesus because they felt like they were leaving behind these lives for something bigger and more important. They admired and loved their teacher but the things that they had envisioned looked nothing like what Jesus was leading them into now.
And while we might like to joke about those silly brothers who ask Jesus to sit on his right hand and his left, I think this is something that we still wrestle with today. If we live good lives, if we make good choices, shouldn’t we be rewarded? Shouldn’t we be assured of good lives? Shouldn’t we be successful? Or what is the point of being good and working hard anyway?
As the disciples were having a hard time understanding Jesus, it might be too bad that the disciples didn’t have the chance to see Moonstruck? Ha that is a funny visual the disciples all sitting around watching the movie – Ronny Cammareri could have told them… “ [Well, God’s love is].. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and *die.”
What Jesus was trying to teach the disciples is that the problem with our desire to be rewarded for the good we do is that it is often predicated on the secular idea that for us to be rewarded – it means that we have to have more or be greater than someone else. We are still don’t see, all these thousands of years later, how to love one another while letting go of a desired outcome. We are still not sure how to do well without that being at the expense of others.
And the problems that arise from our desire to control and win over others are immediately seen in today’s gospel. When the other disciples hear what James and John asked Jesus, they are angry. And the disciples return to their dispute about who is greatest that we heard in chapter nine.Our desire for power and success never brings peace or happiness to all. So, Jesus stops them and bringing them together, again describes how the Kingdom of God is different than the Kingdoms of the world. What the disciples are asking for – what they think of as power—is antithetical to the ways of the Kingdom of God. In God’s kingdom we are all equal. We are all heirs. We are all beloved. Jesus refers to those who they recognize as rulers in the Roman Empire. It is important to note this phrase in the text. Jesus would argue that they are no different than those over whom they reign. Yet Jesus says those “recognized as rulers “lord it over” their subjects.T he Roman great ones exercise authority as tyrants, which this stands in contrast to authority Jesus is telling the about.
Once again, Jesus tries to re-define for his disciples what it means to be first and great in the Kingdom of God. Again Jesus tells them that to be first requires being last and servant of all. Today, Jesus not only reiterates that to be great one has to be a servant (diakonos). But, he says, that to be the first in the Kingdom of God—well one has to be a servant. of the servants. And there is certainly no honor or reward in working for all others as a servant.
Jesus goes even further. The power of God doesn’t stop there. The command to serve is not given only to Jesus’ disciples. No, because that is the thing that is different in the Kingdom that Jesus is talking about. In 10:45 Jesus indicates that what he is asking of them he has and will do himself. Like his disciples, Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. He goes on to say that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many.” WhatJesus is saying is that he believes in this Kingdom and the power of God’s kingdom so much that he, the one they recognize as their leader, came to do his part– to give everything that he has–to witness to and bring this power of love into our world—into our lives. Because while the disciples, while we cannot yet see how wonderful the Kingdom of God could be, Jesus has come lead us there—and while they, while we might think he is trying to ruin everything, Jesus wants us to show us and to model for us just how good it can be.
In the movie Moonstruck, Loretta’s mother Rose asks her Do you love him, Loretta? And Loretta answers, “ Aw, ma, I love him awful.” To which Rose replies: “Oh, God, that’s too bad.” If we want to follow Christ and find the power of true love, our worldly expectations of the “good life” are going to be dashed. BUT, and this is an important BUT, if we follow Christ we can go through that bad news we will get to the Good News. And this is it: God loves us right now whether we are rich or poor – whether we fulfill others expectations or not. Whether our lives are well-ordered or in ruins. You don’t have to act or achieve or be other than what God made you to be. God loves you,me, US. And while in the short term that love may look a whole lot different than we expected, believe Jesus when he says it is better than anything we can imagine – it is a love story about the unlikely paths that love takes and the crazy ways love works. And it’s the best news we could ever receive. You see, Jesus does tell us we might not be in the first row – but the First – the First Born of All Creation, well, he already went first and put himself last of all – and so the view from the back is pretty glorious…. So let’s just say Thank you Jesus… and roll the credits….