18 October 2015

Mark 10:35-45

“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (v. 45)

Psalm: Psalm 91


The shadow of the cross stretches across even the early chapters of Mark's Gospel. It is especially sharp here. Mark tells us that Jesus is "going up to Jerusalem" (Mark 10:32) on his final journey, and on the road Jesus once again foretells his forthcoming death and resurrection to the disciples (Mark 10:33-34, cf Mark 8:31-33). Yet James and John approach Jesus almost as though he were a fairy-tale genie, able to grant three wishes, and their question remains at that level - make us princes, basking in your glory. The other disciples seem to share this view (verse 41), becoming angry with the two brothers because they have stolen a march on the others and grabbed the best seats first. Mark's version of the story is blunter than Matthew's (Matthew 20:20-23), in which it is the mother of James and John who makes the request. Elsewhere too, Mark is more direct about the shortcomings of the disciples than other Gospel writers - which many find an encouragement to their own imperfect discipleship.

Jesus' answers (verses 38, 42) highlight the distance between his world view and that of the disciples. Psychological theory helps us recognise this cognitive gap, and to understand something of the stress that it will cause all the disciples when reality breaks in and they face Jesus crucified. For the reader, with hindsight, there is a terrible irony, a sense of foreboding, as we realise the implications of James' and John's words "we are able" (v. 39): James's death is described at Acts 12:2, John faced prison along with Peter (Acts 4:3).

It might seem ironic, even cruel, to reflect on this story of approaching disaster in light of this week's theme 'Fullness of Life'. Yet life holds sorrow and trauma, as well as moments of utter joy. A holistic approach to life demands that we name darkness as well as light, and recognise that both are caught up in the life of God, and that God can transcend both through loving service, freely given - for this is what makes Jesus' life a "ransom for many".

To Ponder

  • Imagine that Jesus is saying to you 'What is it you want me to do for you?' What would your answer be?
  • Where is God calling you to be a servant, and to whom?


Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.