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Friday, March 27, 2015

Today’s Reading | Mark 10:32–45

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.”

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then 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; 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.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers Lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (NRSV)

Where is Sister Wendy when you need her? If you’re not familiar with Sister Wendy, she is a wonderful, intelligent, sometimes iconoclastic host of several PBS art history series. In addition to being an insightful art critic, she is also a social and literary critic, author, graduate of Oxford, and a nun living in isolation in a Carmelite monastery in Norfolk, England. Sister Mary is good at stripping a painting to its essence using her own two eyes, personal insights and reflection, and sound scholarship. She’d probably do a good job of explaining this text from Mark. 

Like many paintings, especially early Christian art, this passage is challenging to interpret and understand. As we read and talked about it we were struck by the sense that it feels pasted together: the narrative and ideas do not flow naturally. James’ and John’s response to Jesus’ foretelling of his imminent demise seems both awkward and artificial. Did they not hear what he said? Jesus’ admonishment seems equally disconnected or at least hard to envision as normal discourse. Perhaps the incongruities are the result of multiple translations or the fact that the story has been recounted decades after it happened. Contemporary scholarship points to both issues in the Gospel of Mark. 

Two themes in the text seemed most important to us: James’ and John’s failure to hear and understand what Jesus was saying and Jesus’ proclamation of the essence of ministry: serving. These aspects of the story ring true to our understanding of Christ’s life and our own responses to faith. We know that ministering through serving is central to following Christ. And we know that, like James and John, we often miss the point of what Jesus is trying to say. 

Perhaps trying to pin down the precise meaning of the passage is to miss the point. After listening to our extended conversation, our daughter Caroline made two good observations; she thinks that when we read the Bible we should try to “lift” the ideas up so that others can engage with them and that we should try to put ourselves in the shoes of the disciples. We couldn’t agree more.


Image © The Cleveland Museum of Art Leonard C. Hanna Jr. Fund.

Dear Lord, help us to hear when you speak to us and to live out our faith in our lives through serving others. Amen.

Written by Brett and Kristen Cochrane, Members of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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