This coming Sunday is the 29th Sunday in Year B of the lectionary cycle. In previous posts we have explored the request for glory from the Apostles James and John: ““Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mark 10:37). Jesus has questioned if they really understand what they are asking and its consequences: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The two apostles respond: “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.”
In response to their eager “We can” of v.39, Jesus divides the issue: You shall share in my cup, in my baptism, in my death. But it is up to someone else, my Father, to give out the seats of glory! (v. 40). The disciples have just been described as a fearful band following Jesus to Jerusalem, the confident assertion that they can share Jesus’ suffering must strike the reader as naive. However, Jesus predicts that they will share his suffering (v. 39), and, indeed, Acts 12:2 informs us that James was martyred in Jerusalem by Herod Agrippa (44 ce; Gal 2:9 suggests that John survived his brother). Jesus’ prophetic word was fulfilled.
Jesus’ prophecy concerning the martyrdom of James and John reminds us that the failures of the disciples during Jesus’ lifetime are not the final word about their faithfulness as followers of Jesus. Although they will run away during the passion, these same disciples will later share the suffering of Jesus.
In addition to a life of service, discipleship also entails walking the journey of witness to Christ – the Christ crucified and the Risen Christ in Glory. In the Gospel according to Mark, it is this journey to foot of the cross that is the pathway to see the full glory of Jesus – in obedience unto death for the redemption of the world.
Of course, the action of asking the questions initiates a human response from the other disciples and a teaching moment from Jesus: “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.”
The reaction of the ten other disciples reveals how easily the human condition is derailed from the “Way.” I have always wondered if some among the ten are on the cusp of a “breakthrough” and are about to connect all the dots from Jesus’ ministry to his Passion and death, his Resurrection, and return to Glory…. And then they are pulled aside by James and John’s appeal to Jesus. In that brief moment they become concerned that the brothers will have advantage, that Jesus might grant their request (thus somehow diminishing them), and the specter of jealousy washes aside their breakthrough. And apart from the Twelve, there must have been the pangs of loneliness felt by Jesus knowing he would stand alone in the darkest of the hours to come. Nonetheless, he calls them together to teach them about the nature of the kingdom.
Jesus notes that: “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.” The expression “lord it over” is an interesting one. We know that the disciples refer to Jesus as “Lord” (kyrios); the actual expression here is “katakyrieuo.” It is the prefix “kata” (“over” or “down upon”) that moves the expression into the realm of, not just power, but overpower. The same is at play with the word used for “authority.” The root is katexousiazo comprised on “over” (kat) and exousia = “power,” “right,” “authority.” Jesus taught as one having authority (exousia; Mk 1:22). It is the kat- prefix that turns it into a power over people. The underlying word play offers that Jesus is Kyrios and has exousia, but they are proposed to the people. The kat- prefix implies that there in imposition upon the people.
This will not be the way of the Kingdom