Wednesday of Week 8 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 10:32-45

We now come to the third and final foretelling of his passion, death and resurrection by Jesus.  It is not insignificant that it follows immediately on the story of the rich man and the teaching of Jesus that goes with it.  We are now going to see what discipleship of Jesus really means.

The first sentence is a statement of fact, but full of meaning:

They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem…

They were on the road – not just any road – but the road…and that road goes to Jerusalem and points to all that Jerusalem will mean for Jesus and his followers.  Jesus is the Road, the Way and his way brings him to Jerusalem, the carrying of his cross, the letting go of his life in love of his Father and us, leading to the final triumph.  Those who wish to be his disciples have to be ready to walk that road with him.

The disciples have not quite reached this stage of discipleship yet.  As Jesus steps out firmly on the road to Jerusalem, his disciples straggle behind. The apostles:

…were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.

As far as they were concerned, Jesus was out of his mind.  To go to Jerusalem at this time was asking for trouble, serious trouble.  Everyone knew the Jewish leadership was out to get Jesus.  Jerusalem was the last place to go.

Jesus shows them he is under no illusion about the situation.  He gives them a detailed description of what is going to happen to him, more detailed than in the previous foretellings.  The key term “handed over” is used again and, for the first time, a handing over to the “gentiles” is mentioned.  Condemnation to death will come from the leaders of his people, but the carrying out of the execution will be the work of the Romans.  It was not just some Jews who were responsible for Jesus’ death; we were there, too, in the person of the Roman gentiles.

Nevertheless, earlier on the disciples had acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah and Saviour-King of Israel.  In the second prediction they had revealed an awareness that what Jesus was predicting was going to happen and so debated who his successor might be.  Now, for the first time, the last part of the prediction – rising after three days – seems to be getting through.

Perhaps it was, in that frame of mind, that Jesus is approached by two of his closest disciples, James and John.  However, it is also clear that they showed little understanding of all that Jesus had taught them so far.  They approached him gingerly:

Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.

Replies Jesus:

What is it you want me to do for you?

(Note the question, because we will meet it again in tomorrow’s reading.)

The answer of the two brothers indicates how little they have understood of the mind of Jesus:

Appoint us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.

Left unstated was their reasoning: “After all, you did say three times that you were going to rise again after your death.”

This is a perfect example of using a personal acquaintance or relationship to get in by the back door and obtain a favour otherwise out of reach. And by “glory” they are almost certainly thinking in worldly terms of Jesus as an earthly, victorious, all conquering king.  The kind of person they expected the Messiah to be.

Jesus tells them:

You do not know what you are asking.

They neither know the kind of King Jesus is going to be nor do they know the price he is going to pay to enter that kingship.  This is clear from the next question he puts to them:

Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?

This is a clear reference to Jesus’ passion and death, the price he will pay to reveal God’s love for his children.

We remember, later in the garden, as the weight of his coming passion presses him down, Jesus prays that the cup be taken away.  “Baptism” implies a total immersion, and Jesus will be totally overwhelmed with suffering and shame and humiliation.

Do the two disciples realise this?  Are they ready to go through this with Jesus on their way to the privileges and glory they are asking for?  “We are able” they confidently boast without realising just what is involved.  In fact, with the rest of their companions, they will scatter and disappear when these events overtake their Master.

Nevertheless, looking further ahead Jesus generously tells them that they will indeed one day share Jesus’ cup and his baptism of suffering and death.  James would be one of the first martyrs of the young church.  However, as to giving them the places of honour they were looking for, that was beyond Jesus’ power to give:

…but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to appoint, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.

In other words, these places are not just for the asking; they have to be earned.  They will be given, not to those who furtively ask, but to those whose love most closely approaches that of Jesus himself.

Not surprisingly, the other ten were highly indignant when they found out what James and John had done behind their backs.  They were not indignant at the impropriety or the daring, but that they had been beaten to it…they wanted exactly the same things themselves.

Following the same pattern as the other previous incidents, the prediction of the Passion and Resurrection is followed by a show of misunderstanding by the disciples, leading to a teaching. And that is what comes now.

Jesus now patiently gives them another lesson on what real greatness in his Kingdom consists of. In the ‘world’, “among the gentiles”, to be great is to have power over others, to exercise authority, to be able to control and manipulate people to be at your disposal, to use people to attain your ends.  However, in Jesus’ world, those really great put themselves and their unique gifts to use by promoting the well-being of brothers and sisters, especially those in most need.  And the more people we can serve the greater we are.

‘Authority’ is not to control, but to empower.  And it is the role of anyone in authority to generate ideas, energy, creativity in those for whom one is responsible.  In other words to serve those who have been entrusted to one’s authority.  But it is a corruption of the word to become ‘authoritarian’ in such a position.  After 2,000 years of Christianity it is a lesson practically all of us have yet to learn.

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