|Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes at
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This is also the Gospel Reading for the festival of ST. JAMES THE ELDER, APOSTLE, July 25, which is on a Sunday in 2004.
These verses immediately follow vv. 32-34, which is the third passion/resurrection prediction. (These verses are not part of the lectionary.) It begins by reminding us that Jesus is "on the way" [hodos] to Jerusalem (v. 32). The same word is used later in the chapter about blind Bartimaeus who is "by or alongside the way" (v. 46), and who, as a seeing man, follows Jesus "on the way" (v. 52). The use of this word as "bookends" suggests that the disciples between these words are just as blind as Bartimaeus and they are not "on the way" with Jesus, but only on the sidelines. (Note the repeated use of hodos throughout this discipleship section: 8:27; 9:33, 34; 10:17, 32, 46, 52.)
After Jesus announces (again) his upcoming passion, the disciples "were amazed" and "afraid." The word for "amazed" (thambeomai) is found only in Mark in the NT (1:27; 10:24), as is a more intensive form, (ekthambeomai -- 9:15; 14:33; 16:5, 6). The "amazement" may be at either positive or negative events. It would seem that their "amazement" or "shock" in this context is that fact that Jesus is going up to Jerusalem. He has already told them that he will "be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed" (8:31). Although it hasn't been stated explicitly that this will happen in Jerusalem, the disciples have probably figured it out. If Jesus knows they will do this to him, why does it persist on going to Jerusalem? The disciples might have been dense about Jesus' mission, but they knew enough to be alarmed.
In contrast to many congregations, Jesus was certain about the mission God had sent him to do -- the purpose of his life and death -- and nothing would keep him from fulfilling it. He also presents himself as an example in our text.
Related to this aspect of our text, some years ago I received a short article adapted from Herold Percy, "Good News People," which makes a contrast between "maintenance" and "mission".
1. In measuring the effectiveness, the maintenance congregation asks, "How many pastoral visits are being made? The mission congregation asks, "How many disciples are being made?"
2. When contemplating some form of change, the maintenance congregation says, "If this proves upsetting to any of our members, we won't do it." The mission congregation says, "If this will help us reach someone on the outside, we will take the risk and do it."
3. When thinking about change, the majority of members in a maintenance congregation ask, "How will this affect me?" The majority of members in the mission congregation ask, "Will this increase our ability to reach those outside?"
4. When thinking of its vision for ministry, the maintenance congregation says, "We have to be faithful to our past." The mission congregation says, "We have to be faithful to our future."
5. The pastor in the maintenance congregation says to the newcomer, "I'd like to introduce you to some of our members." In the mission congregation the members say, "We'd like to introduce you to our pastor."
6. When confronted with a legitimate pastoral concern, the pastor in the maintenance congregation asks, "How can I meet this need?" The pastor in the mission congregation asks, "How can this need be met?"
7. The maintenance congregation seeks to avoid conflict at any cost (but rarely succeeds). The mission congregation understands that conflict is the price of progress, and is willing to pay the price. It understands that it cannot take everyone with it. This causes some grief, but it does not keep it from doing what needs to be done.
8. The leadership style in the maintenance congregation is primarily managerial, where leaders try to keep everything in order and running smoothly. The leadership style in a mission congregation is primarily transformational, casting a vision of what can be, and marching off the map in order to bring the vision into reality.
9. The maintenance congregation is concerned with their congregation, its organizations and structure, its constitutions and committees. The mission congregation is concerned with the culture, with understanding how secular people think and what makes them tick. It tries to determine their needs and their points of accessibility to the Gospel.
10. When thinking about growth, the maintenance congregations asks, "How many Lutherans live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?" The mission congregation asks, "How many unchurched people live within a twenty-minute drive of this church?"
11. The maintenance congregation looks at the community and asks, "How can we get these people to support our congregation?" The mission congregation asks, "How can the Church support these people?"
12. The maintenance congregation thinks about how to save their congregation. The mission congregation thinks about how to reach the world.
I know that whenever such a "paradigm shift" (changing "the correct way of viewing the world") is introduced in a church, most of the people just don't get it -- like the disciples in our text.
Jesus had said that one needs to be like a child to receive the kingdom of God. James and John are acting somewhat childish in wishing that Jesus would do for them whatever they ask. (In Matthew, it is their mother who makes the request, thus the disciples aren't presented as acting quite as badly as in Mark.)
How is their request that Jesus would do for them whatever they ask different from Jesus' statement about serving others? Sometimes the concept of serving others is defined as "doing whatever the other wants done." There are some things that Jesus won't or can't do for other people, e.g., give them the places of honor when he comes into his glory. Jesus clearly indicates that his power is limited.
Jesus makes it clear that the Son of Man will come in glory in the other two instances of the word (doxa) [Matthew has "in your kingdom" in the parallel passage (20:22)]:
Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory. (8:38)
Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds" with great power and glory. (13:26)
Remember also that James and John had seen Jesus transfigured before them. They had a glimpse of Jesus' glory with Moses and Elijah perhaps at his right and left (9:2-8).
There is a time of Jesus' glory which is related to the parousia.
Mark uses two different words for "left" (aristeros in v. 37 and euonumos in v. 40). They are synonymous. Matthew uses eunonumos in both places in the parallel passage (20:21, 23). Mark uses the second word for the bandits at Jesus' right and left at the crucifixion (15:27) as does Matthew (27:38), but Luke uses aristeros for the position at the crucifixion (23:33).
When there are people at Jesus' right and left in Mark, they are bandits and it is at their crucifixions. Is that the time of Jesus' glory? Are they the ones for whom God has prepared the honor?
Jesus tells the two that they don't know what they are asking. I think that they know what they are asking for, but they don't realize the steps necessary to achieve it. (Perhaps like children asking for and promising to take care of a puppy. They really don't know what they are asking for or promising to do.)
I think that the same thing often happens in congregations. They will make statements like, "We want to grow," "We want to reach out to our community," etc., but they don't really know what those statements mean or the steps it requires to make such "glorious" things happen. (See the distinctions between the maintenance and mission congregations at the beginning of this note.)
In v. 38, the verbs are present tense -- Jesus is presently drinking his cup and being baptized with his baptism. Perhaps some of his greatest suffering was caused by these dense disciples who never seem to get the picture of what Jesus is going to do. They are the blind ones, but unlike Bartimaeus, they don't wish to have Jesus give them new sight.
The image of "drinking from a cup" is used in the OT to refer to receiving [God's] wrath and the sorrow that comes with that (Pss 11:6; 75:8; Is 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15; 51:7; Ezek 23:33-34).
Does Jesus come under God's wrath -- which all of us deserve? Or does "the cup" simply symbolize suffering?
There are also some positive uses of "cup" in the OT.
The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup (Ps 16:5)
My cup overflows (Ps 23:5)
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD (Ps 116:13)
In Mark, "cup" is used literally (7:4; 9:41) and figuratively:
Our text: 10:38-39 = suffering?
In the Garden: 14:36 = remove this cup = suffering
It is used in the Last Supper where the cup (actually its contents) symbolizes "The blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (14:23-24). Is this another reference to Jesus' suffering?
Lowe & Nida suggest that the phrase "to be baptized with a baptism" is an idiom that means "to be overwhelmed by some difficult experience or ordeal." Given that baptizo can mean "to immerse," the image of being immersed in water is used as a symbol of great distress. "Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck (Ps 69:1 see also vv. 2, 14-15).
Juel [Mark, Augsburg Commentaries] suggests a sacramental image with "cup" and "baptism":
... While the term "baptism" could be employed in Greek literature to speak about being overwhelmed by catastrophe, the awkwardness of the phrase may suggest that it is chosen because of its place in the church's technical vocabulary. In Paul's letters, the rite of Christian Baptism is interpreted as sharing Christ's death (Rom. 6:1-5; in Ephesians 2 and Colossians 2, sharing in his resurrection as well).
It is tempting to speculate that the images of cup and baptism are chosen here in light of Christian ritual. Understanding Jesus' words to James and John does not require locating them within Christian tradition. The images of cup and baptism are sufficiently clear by themselves. In view of that tradition as it is known elsewhere in the New Testament, however, it is tempting to speculate that Jesus' words represent an effort to understand more deeply what is implied in the church's sacramental practices. In Baptism and the Lord's Supper, the faithful share Christ's destiny. That is precisely what James and John want -- and it is precisely what they fail to understand. They know that the kingdom will come; what they do not grasp is how and at what cost. [pp. 146-7]
In both vv. 38 & 39, ego is used, stressing the "I" of the drinking and being baptized. Perhaps to indicate this stress we could translate it: "The cup which I myself am drinking, you will drink and the baptism which I myself am being baptized, you will be baptized. It is clear that Jesus is going through these ordeals.
If the drinking and being baptized are things that are happening (present tense) to Jesus, they mean more than just martyrdom. Perhaps, as I suggested above, it is the suffering of "putting up" with those who don't get it -- those who fail to capture the vision of Jesus' (or a congregation's) mission.
Jesus indicates in v. 40 that he does not know all or have the power to do everything. He does not know for whom his right and left have been prepared and he does not have the power to give it to James and John (even if he might have wanted to). Matthew makes it clear that these places have been prepared by the Father (20:23).
The reaction of the ten in v. 41 suggests a couple of things.
(1) Seeking power is divisive for a community.
(2) Are they angry because they wanted these positions for themselves? Are they just as bad as the two?
Verse 42 Jesus presents the prevailing cultural control system. I suggested in a sermon that there can be a great difference in the words "power" and "overpower". That difference is part of a couple of Greek words in this verse, which are translated "lord it over" and "be tyrants over."
The root of the first word (katakyrieuo) is kyrios or "lord". Jesus is Lord. God is Lord, yet they do not lord it over people. It is the prefix kata that turns it into a power over other people.
The root of the second word (katexousiazo) is exousia = "power," "right," "authority." This attribute was also frequently applied to Jesus. He taught as one having authority (Mk 1:22). It is the kat- prefix that turns it into a power over people.
It is not necessarily bad to be in a position of power and authority. Jesus certainly had that. Clergy and council members are in positions of power, but there is a difference between having power and overpowering others.
This was the assigned text soon after I had been to a workshop on Native Americans. They built round teepees. We build square or rectangular houses. They organized their communities in a circle. We have square blocks. They build round sweat lodges. We build square saunas. They talk about the circle of life -- that all living things are on this circle -- equal to one another.
It struck me that there is no hierarchy in a circle. A round table has no head. Rectangular tables have a "head" (and "foot") to the seating arrangements. There are places of honor at a rectangular table that are not found at a round one. At fancy banquets, there is often a "head" table where the really important people sit.
A major contrast in our text is the way of the world with its positions or rank and privilege and the way of Jesus' followers. The Greek prefix kata mentioned earlier as "over people" can also imply "looking down" on others -- being higher up. In Jesus' community -- in Jesus' body -- all are equal. Each person will have different gifts in his/her service to/for the community, but all are equal.
Four times in our text the Greek word thelo is used. When James and John approach Jesus they say: "Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask you." Jesus replies, "What do you want me to do for you?" [vv. 35-36] The same word is used in vv. 43-44: "Whoever wants to become great among you.... "Whoever wants to be first among you...." [NRSV translates the second pair with "wishes".]
The word also occurs in v. 51 when Jesus asks blind Bartimaeus, "What do you want me to do?" It is essentially the same question Jesus asks James and John in v. 36 -- literally, "What are you wishing that I will do for you?"
There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with wanting to be great or first among the disciples (or "to see again"); but it has to be done Jesus' way and not according to the world's way.
Jesus makes it clear at the beginning of v. 43 that the "power-tripping" way of the world is not the way things are to be among the disciples. How is it to be among us? We are to be servants and slaves.
I find a significant change in the parallelism of the second part of these two verses.
he/she will be a servant [diakonos] of yours
he/she will be a slave [doulos] of all
It would seem that for Mark, our servanthood is not limited to the group -- your servant, but to the world, to all. This is stated earlier in 9:35 when Jesus tells the twelve, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant [diakonos] of all.
Matthew's parallels do not have "of all," but "your".
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave. (20:26-27)
The greatest among you will be your servant. (23:11)
It would seem that discipleship in Mark has a greater emphasis on serving all people and not just those within the believing community.
Juel [Mark, Augsburg Commentaries] has this comment about the passage:
While Jesus' first comments about discipleship suggest that followers must be prepared to take up their crosses and follow even all the way to death, that does not seem to be the issue here. The question is not willingness to die but rather willingness to lead without flaunting authority. The whole passage has to do with status and leadership -- hardly of interest or concern to a community of desperate, persecuted believers. Such comments would be of interest to a community that has tasted power and likes it, a community that is already experiencing the pressures of institutionalization. [p.149]
Although Jesus says in v. 45 that he did not come to be served but to serve, every other time this word [diakoneo] is used in Mark it is Jesus who is being served! After the temptation he is served by angels (1:13). After healing Peter's mother-in-law, she serves them (1:31). The women at the crucifixion are described as those who "used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee (15:41).
The service Jesus offers, though, goes far beyond what was given to him. He gives his life as a ransom for all. [Note the "for all" again, which also occurs in Mt 20:28].
The word for ransom (lytron) occurs only here and the Mt parallel. It refers to the price paid to free a slave. Related words are frequently translated "redemption" or "redeemer".
Richard Jensen in Preaching Mark's Gospel writes:
The best way to treat Jesus as the "ransom for many" is to do so through proclamation. Try to avoid theories of atonement. This is not class time. This is sermon time. This is proclamation time. [p. 163]
He gives an example of ransom proclamation which could conclude a sermon:
Through these stories Jesus speaks to us this day. He says, "I have come to fulfill Isaiah's dream. I have come to bear your infirmities. I have come to be wounded for your transgressions. I have come to bless your life with the blessing of God. You may not want my blessing. You may wish to condemn me. You may wish to kill me. Very well. Have your way. Push me out of the world and onto a cross. I will go through the cross to bless you. I will go through hell itself to bless you. I have come to give my life as a ransom for many. Amen [p. 163]
He also suggests a couple of other ways of approaching the ransom aspect.
One is to retell some of Mark's stories that demonstrate the captivity of people who come to Jesus. A man in captivity to demonic powers (1:21-28). A man in captivity to leprosy (1:40-45). A man in captivity to sin and paralysis (2:1-12). A woman in captivity to a twelve-year flow of blood (5:25-34); and others. [p. 163]
A related approach is to tell stories of modern people in their multiple captivities. with this suggested closing:
I am the Son of Man who has come to serve you. I have come give my life as a ransom. I have come to redeem you from all your captivities. I have come to ransom your life from sin. I have come to ransom your life from the powers of evil. I have come to ransom your life from death. I have come to suffer and die that you might live and serve under the sign of the cross. Amen [p. 163]
I offer a final summary from Perkins [Mark, New Interpreters Bible]
This final section parallels the opening exhortation to bear one's cross in imitation of the Son of Man who came to serve (8:34-38). The self-denial associated with the cross does not always mean martyrdom, even in Mark. Another form of self-denial has been emphasized throughout these chapters: denying the human demand for honor, power, and status. The repeated struggles for honor among the disciples show what a difficult task that reversal of values is. The image of ransom as liberation from slavery opens up an additional dimension of Jesus' self-sacrifice. It is the true meaning of the victory over evil, which has been enacted in Jesus' healings and exorcisms. [p. 654]
While we are not called to be a ransom for many, are we as individuals and congregation's called to be self-sacrificing (not maintaining ourselves) in our mission to serve each other and be slaves to all?
Faith Lutheran Church, 1000 D St., Marysville, CA 95901