23 November 2010

Mark 10:35-45

"You knew that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their 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." (vv. 42b-44)


There are no hidden meanings in this story although Christian tradition has tended to spiritualise it. The point of Jesus' teaching is both easy to understand and difficult to accept: in the kingdom of God, it is weakness rather than power that is well-regarded.

Do you think you're doing pretty well? Have you worked hard to get good marks in school or to get a good university degree?

Have you put a lot of time and effort into raising godly children, into advancing in your job or your profession, into paying into your pension?

Having done all that, are you looking for something in return? Perhaps a pat on the back from your parents, recognition from friends and colleagues, or the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed to society rather than taken from it?

Jesus' response to that world view is that in the kingdom of God, those who have worked hard to move the front of the queue shall be last.

Our intuitive sense of fairness (of what is fair for me) screams out 'not fair!' at this teaching.

And if you want to know one of the things that humanity is saved from - as people sometimes ask - it is our inborn sense of competition. Jesus wants to save us from the desire to beat others at their own game and from the belief that we deserve recognition for having done so.

James and John walked with Jesus during his earthly ministry; they witnessed the Transfiguration (Mark 9:1-9) and were chosen to pray with Jesus in the garden just before his death (Mark 14:32-42). But Jesus didn't promise to make them his top men in the kingdom. Why do any of us deserve more than they?

To Ponder

In your estimation, what is the difference between lording it over someone and using legitimate authority?

Imagine yourself as James or John. How do you feel about Jesus when he tells you that he does not have the power to determine who sits at his right hand?

The background text suggests that being competitive can be sinful; can you think of circumstances when this may or may not be true?

Bible notes author

The Revd Pam Garrud

Pam is an ordained minister in the Methodist Church in Britain. In August 2009, Pam and her London-born husband Trevor moved to Pam's native United States for family reasons.