Why He Came: context

serve-one-another35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?” 37 They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 They said to him, “We can.” 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; 40 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.” 41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and John. 42 Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. 43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; 44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:35-45)

The tenth chapter of Mark has been especially dense with preparing the disciples for the time when Jesus will no longer be with them as their teacher. Jesus will enter Jerusalem at the beginning of Mark 11. The terrible fate that Jesus has already predicted for himself awaits even as he strives to have the disciples more fully understand the meaning of the Kingdom. At certain level, this scene is déjà vu – didn’t Jesus just have a discussion with the disciples regarding the true meaning of greatness as service to the least among us? Hasn’t he already told them that the path of discipleship will consist, not just of demonstrations of power (healing and casting out demons), but also one in which one “must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (8:34) Did they not draw any broader conclusion about the nature of the kingdom in Jesus’ exchange with the rich man (10:17-31)?

Although not part of the Sunday lectionary of gospel readings, there are three simple verses that come before our gospel account:

32 They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him. 33 “Behold, 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 and hand him over to the Gentiles 34 who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” (Mark 10:32-34)

This is the third prediction of the Passion – also “on the way (hodos)” and again the disciples are worried about who will receive glory and their blind ambitions. Next week’s gospel is the account of the encounter with Blind Bartimaeus who is “by the roadside (hodos)” (v. 46), and who, as a seeing man, follows Jesus “on the way (hodos)” (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. The “Way” points to the ultimate end of Jesus’ earthly life – Golgotha and the cross. Paradoxically, while James and John ask for glory, it is on the cross that the fullness of God’s glory will be revealed.

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