Don't Get in Line, Get on Board
First Reading Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm Psalm 91:9-16
Second Reading Hebrews 5:1-10
Gospel Mark 10:35-45
“With long life will I satisfy him, * and show him my salvation.”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Many of us are concerned with position, our place in line. We all witness and even participate in such line jockeying in the grocery store, at the bank, and in our cars. We admonish that person, who out of apparent self importance, cuts in line. But when we are in a hurry, we easily justify our impatience as we ride the open lane as far as it will go, and at the last moment cut in front of all those waiting their turn. There is a story about president Woodrow Wilson, and given his personality and lively sense of humor, it is likely true. A New Jersey man phoned the White House at 3 o’clock in the morning and asked to speak to the president on any matter of national importance. The operator rang and woke up the president. When the man got through to Wilson he told him, “the collector of customs here in New Jersey has died.” The president replied, “I’m sorry to hear that, but why are you calling at this hour?” The reply came back, “Because I want to replace him.” President Wilson responded, “Well, if the undertaker has no objection, then neither do I.” Today we imagine with the disciples getting in line to receive eternal life, only to find, there is no line.
I don’t know about you, but when someone asks me, “What are you doin next Thursday?”, I assume it’s a trap. I’m sure they are going to ask me to help them move, or draft me for some task with which no one else has agreed to help. Another line we use with each other is, “Will you do me a favor?” Who would answer “yes” without knowing what the favor is? If we are feeling helpful and cautious, we might say, “I’ll do what I can.”
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, make such a request of Jesus. Actually more of a statement, they say, “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” What a loaded request! James and John are asking for a blank check. At the very least, they don’t seem to understand the concept of following Jesus. They want to lead. They want to call the shots. They want to secure their future.
Jesus, apparently feeling helpful and cautious, and remaining non-committal, answers their request with a question. “What is it you want me to do for you?” They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory. They are asking for positions of supreme honor in the kingdom. Perhaps they do understand that they are following Jesus, but they want to follow closely, riding on the leading edge of Jesus’ coattails. We often seek power and position over others in this life, and continue to want power and position and favor over others in the kingdom.
Jesus has predicted his passion, and explained that there will be suffering. He asks them, ‘are you ready for all that?’ James and John boldly, and naively, answer, “We are able.” We are ready for the baptism, the cup, even suffering, but then we get the reward, right? In their self-centered ness, they do not really understand Jesus’ passion prediction. Fast forward to the time shortly after Jesus’ death, when all the faithful Apostles seem to fall short, denying any connection to Jesus, hiding in fear, and fleeing from God’s revelatory light.
James and John seem less interested in life with Christ, and more interested in the assurance of reward. This is a cheap, transactional faith. Such a faith says, ‘If I answer the altar call, say the right words, am a good person and do my part, then God is obliged to reward me for it. We are all tempted to jump right to the security and joy God is supposed to provide.
Last week, I made the statement ‘salvation is a journey.’ In reflection, I imagine this might have caused some consternation. Some might suggest salvation is accomplished completely in the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. Other traditions profess salvation is a moment, a choice, once and done. Still others believe our salvation is hanging in the balance, with a tally sheet of good deeds being recorded in a ledger in heaven. It is above my pay grade to affirm or deny these.
But, in our tradition of Anglican theology, as our faith seeks understanding, perhaps we might say, “We have been saved, we are being saved, and we live in hope of salvation.” Through his death, resurrection and ascension, Jesus has blazed the trail by which humanity may be fully reconciled with God. We are also on a journey, seeking deeper knowledge and love of God, growing in the stature of Christ, and maturing in faith. And God’s reconciliation with humanity is ongoing, with promises yet to be fulfilled. It is a journey. Jesus never told any disciple, ‘you are done, nothing left to do, sit back, and enjoy paradise.’ In the gospels we are constantly invited to follow, forgive, go, love, and serve. Discipleship is preparation, anticipation, and action. Our salvation is experienced in the present as we lean in toward God’s future. We are called to be on hand, for that which is at hand, but not yet in hand.
There are no positions or places on the journey of salvation. There is only all of us, together. The church of every age must be wary of imitating the oppressive structures of power and prestige that characterize the rulers of this world, and must imitate the the kind of servant leadership embodied in Jesus, who gave his life that others might be free. Because of Christ, there is room for all at God’s banquet table. If we are not carrying others along, and at times being carried, it will be a lonely feast indeed.
Jesus continues to bring God and humanity into dynamic unity. We journey together, celebrating and grieving. We journey together through suffering and success. We journey together sharing all of God’s blessings in our lives with each other. We journey together each week to God’s table to receive the Eucharist, to be refreshed and renewed. We journey together with a vision of salvation, of God repairing and reconciling a broken world.
Jockeying for position and power has no place among followers of Jesus. Mark conveys these teachings clearly ... to be a disciple of Jesus, one must “take up the cross and follow”, be willing to lose one’s life, be “last of all and servant of all”, allow others to perform and experience wonders with no expectation of personal gain, be initiated into the death of Jesus, and live as slaves to all. Perhaps this is not the kind of glory James and John had in mind. The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. Jesus underlines this ideal of universal service to others. Let us journey together as one, as we are all created to be. Let us journey in salvation together as disciples of Jesus Christ, doing our human best, to be on hand, for that which is at hand, but not yet in hand. Amen.