You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. For "All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord endures forever." That word is the good news that was announced to you.
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 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."
Although Jesus encountered opposition from the disciples, he did not back down or change tack, but continued on his way to Jerusalem, where, he knew, the Son of Man will be handed over, to be mocked and spat him, flogged and finally killed. Little wonder that his followers were amazed and afraid, despite the fact that he also promised, “after three days he will rise again.”
By contrast with this exalted vision of hope and life, of martyrdom and self-giving for others, the action of Zebedee's sons, James and John, seems petty and contemptible. How could they intrigue for privileged places in the kingdom, seeking to outrank their colleagues, when Jesus has announced the giving of his life for everyone? How could they want to lord it over others (as prelates? ) ust as the Gentiles do? He had taught a spirit of loving service, but still they were scheming and dreaming of profit and of gaining the inside track. And yet, we must be grateful to the candid pair, for drawing from Jesus the clearest and most radical statement of his life's purpose, when he declared that “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Today Mark's gospel reports one of several clashes between Jesus and his disciples, as they make their way to Jerusalem, the city where Jesus will be crucified. Jesus and his disciples are clearly on different wavelengths. The difference between them finds expression in the very different questions they ask of each other. The question the two disciples, James and John, ask Jesus focuses on glory, honour, status. The question that Jesus asks James and John focuses on the experience of rejection and suffering that he has to face into, “Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptized with the baptism with which I must be baptized?” Jesus was referring to the cup of suffering and the baptism of fire. The question of James and John showed their interest in self-promotion. The question of Jesus showed his interest in self-giving. At the heart of being his disciple is self-giving love, becoming the servant of others, and this will often mean taking the way of the cross, as Jesus knew from his own experience. James and John, and all of us, are being called to follow the one who did not come to be served but to serve, whose purpose in life was not to promote himself but to empty himself for others. It is only in following this way that we will receive that share in Jesus' glory that was the focus of James and John's request. [MH]