Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
In this Sunday’s Gospel, James and John ask for privilege: they want to sit at Jesus’s right and left in glory.
Our last few readings from Mark, in fact, have walked us through the evangelical counsels: poverty, chastity, and obedience. First Jesus talked about marriage. In Mark’s version he doesn’t talk about celibacy (though Matthew does). But the evangelical counsel is called “chastity,” not celibacy, and although we are not all called to celibacy, Jesus does present the golden path of his very high call of marriage.
Celibacy is an “evangelical counsel,” that is, something the Gospel presents us helpful, but not necessary. “Chastity” reminds us that these counsels call to everyone. We are all called to radical faithfulness in regard to sex and marriage, to a transformation that is impossible for man, but for God all things are possible.
The next story, the Rich Young Man, made the same point about poverty. We are not all called to sell all we have, that is only a “counsel”—but we are all called to a kind of radical fidelity through detachment from possessions. That too is a gift of grace: not the grace to enter the kingdom of heaven rich, but the grace to abandon our riches and pass through the eye of the needle.
And in this week’s story, he points to the counsel of obedience. To vow obedience to a religious superior is only a counsel. But we are all called to radical fidelity by renouncing our desire for power and authority. “Those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” Not everyone has to vow obedience—but we all, “whoever,” must be servants.
We are not all called to vows of religious poverty, chastity, and obedience. But we are all called to the spirit of these counsels.
The Lectionary skips over three verses, between the Rich Young Man and this week’s reading, where Jesus again foretells his death.
But our story does present us with the conflict between worldly mentalities and the mentality of the kingdom.
When they ask to sit at his side in glory, he says, “You do not know what you are asking.” Their idea of glory is all screwed up.
But he concludes, “You know”—this is what you do know—“that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them.” What we know is the desire for power. That is worldly wisdom. Jesus calls us to a new wisdom, what we do not know.
Most translations have him ask, “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” But there are no question marks in the original Greek, and perhaps it is a statement: “Let me tell you what you can do: You can drink my cup, receive my baptism.” We receive that cup and baptism sacramentally, so that we can receive them literally when our sufferings are united to his.
Then Jesus says, “You will drink . . . and be baptized; but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give, but is for those for whom it has been prepared.” “Prepared” could be translated, “adjusted to,” “fitting for.” What Jesus gives us his cup and his baptism. Those are our path, our preparation, for glory. But it isn’t his way to give us glory without that preparation; the only path to glory is through the cup and the baptism, through the Cross of Christ.
He concludes by talking about “those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles.” “Recognized” is important. The ones who seem to rule are not really the ones who rule. They are not really lords, do not really influence people as they—and we—think they do. “You know that those who seem,” he says: your worldly knowledge is a matter of appearances, not of reality.
Renounce that worldly mentality and follow the Son of Man, who “did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Thus our reading from Hebrews tells us that Jesus, son of God, has become our high priest by sharing in our weakness, so that our weakness—our cup and baptism—can become an approach to “the throne of his grace” and mercy.
Isaiah tells us that the one who “gives his life as an offering for sin”—Jesus, and then us who join in that cup and baptism—“shall see his descendants in a long life.” The way to success is not the way we think. We must follow the way of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Where has worldly wisdom infected your life?