Sharing the experience

Pentecost 20

Mark 10:32-45

Marian Free

In the name of Jesus Christ who calls us to share in the work of salvation. Amen.

It is a statement of the obvious to suggest that we are all different and that as a result the way we experience events in our lives differs greatly from one person to another. For example, it is well known that men and women tend to grieve in different ways. We know that some people wear their heart on their sleeves while others are more restrained and keep their emotions hidden. The person who sobs with grief or who leaps with joy may be no more sad than the person who stoically dabs their eyes and no more ecstatic than the one who calmly accepts good news.

Having said this, there still exists an expectation of how people should react in a particular circumstance and a tendency to condemnation or impatience if they do not. I heard the most shocking story on the radio one morning this year. A woman whose husband had died recently rang to say that when she was still obviously sad six weeks after his death she was told that she “should get over it.” How sad and isolating it must have been for her to feel that her experience was not normal, that she could not share her continuing sense of grief with her friends and that others did not understand or try to understand what she was going through.

I am sure that many of us have, at one time or another experienced the loneliness and isolation of being misunderstood – whether it is our anxiety about getting things right or being somewhere on time, our excitement about something which others trivialize or dismiss or our depression relating to losing a job or missing out on the promotion, we can feel completely alone if no one else understands how we feel, or if no one else is able to sympathise with our joy or our sorrow.

Imagine then, what it must have been like to be Jesus. He has specially chosen twelve people to share his ministry. To them he has told things that he has told no one else. He has given to them the interpretation of the parables and he has empowered them to cure the sick and to cast out demons. Now, when he tells them about his death and resurrection, they behave as if they haven’t even heard him. Worse, two of the twelve, James and John, are so unable to come to terms with what Jesus is saying that they change the subject completely – effectively dismissing any idea that Jesus might be anxious or afraid. It’s a wonder that Jesus doesn’t abandon his mission there and then.

This is now the third time that he has told the disciples that he is going to die, and still they do not understand. Instead, they can think only of themselves and what is in it for them. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus is talking about being handed over, mocked, spat upon and killed and all James and John can think of is their own future aggrandizement. This is the third time that Jesus has announced his death and resurrection. Each time the pattern has been the same – the misunderstanding of the disciples followed by an explanation of what his mission is really about.

On the first occasion, Peter takes Jesus aside and rebukes him. Jesus responds with a exhortation for his followers to take up their cross and follow him. In the face of Peter’s refusal to accept the reality of Jesus’ death, Jesus concludes that “whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of man will also be ashamed when he comes in his glory” (8:38).

The second time Jesus predicts his crucifixion, the disciples “did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him” (9:32). The disciples are apparently unable to cope with the possibility of Jesus’ death and react by changing the subject. They begin an argument as to who among them is the greatest. They deal with their own fear and confusion by focusing on something that is tangible and concrete. Perhaps this is a way of dealing with the uncertainty of the future – determining roles for themselves on the off-chance that Jesus’ prediction is correct and that they will be left on their own. Jesus takes the opportunity to illustrate what true leadership is – the first must be last and the last must be first.

On this, the third occasion, the disciples begin by being amazed and afraid. Jesus is walking alone. He calls the twelve to him and predicts in detail what is about to happen. Again there is no response. Then James and John make their audacious request: “We want you to give us what ever we ask.” It’s hard to imagine what they were thinking – unless, afraid of what would happen without Jesus they are keen to secure their place for all eternity. Of course, the other ten are furious – why should James and John expect special treatment? (It appears that none of the twelve have learnt the lesson of the previous occasion – they still think that the first should be first!)

Jesus exhibits infinite patience. He tries to explain the concept of leadership in yet another way. They well know that the Romans exercise power through force and intimidation. Jesus suggests that this is not the way to exercise real leadership. True leadership, true greatness is demonstrated in service of others. Jesus will show this to be true by giving his life “as a ransom for many.” Jesus followers, by implication, will live lives of service, be prepared to take up their cross and willing to give their lives for others. Up until the very end, Jesus’ closest friends show an unwillingness to fully enter into the experience. They respond to Jesus’ predictions of his death by changing the subject, implying that he doesn’t know what he is talking about and looking to their own futures with no apparent understanding as to what will happen in his. There must have been moments when Jesus felt utterly isolated and alone.

It is profoundly confronting to think that God, who through Jesus have invited us to share in the work of salvation, might feel disappointed, misunderstood and alone. Despite this, Jesus with infinite patience explains and re-explains to us, what it means, what it looks like and what it costs. We can respond to Jesus’ challenge by demonstrating our ignorance and fear, we can choose to ignore the difficult questions and try to evade the cost of discipleship, or we can join forces with Jesus, take up our cross, learn what it means to serve others and begin to understand what it means to give our lives for the life of the world.


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