Materials for Worship at Home on 17th October

Nerys writes: I wonder what picture comes into your mind this morning when you think of Jesus? Perhaps, with Christmas goods starting to fill the shops, you’re thinking of the child in the manger. Perhaps it is a depiction of Christ on the cross – a familiar painting or a sculpture – or an image of Christ in majesty from a stained glass window.

What we find in today’s Gospel reading, however, is a dynamic image of Jesus striding purposefully towards Jerusalem with his amazed disciples just behind and a fearful crowd following at a distance as in this painting by James Tissot.

He leads the way, fully aware of the horror which lies ahead, having just warned those closest to him of it for the third time: ‘The Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the teachers of the Law. They will condemn him to death and then hand him over to the Gentiles, who will make fun of him, spit on him, whip him, and kill him and after three days he will rise again.’ With this picture in our minds, I wonder what we make of today’s passage, Mark 10.35-45?

James and John must have heard all Jesus had said but they clearly hadn’t grasped it. Their request for seats beside him in his glory couldn’t have come at a more incongruous moment. How could they have so badly misunderstood what their teacher was saying to them?

I wonder if these naturally ambitious young men had heard only what they wanted to hear? Had they fastened on to the words ‘the Son of Man’, that majestic title with its association of glory in the Old Testament, and filtered out what Jesus had said about the way his mission would be achieved? They knew he was the Messiah, the one sent by God. They had seen God’s power at work in him. It would be natural for them to think that when the victory was won and the triumph was complete, they might become chief ministers of state in God’s kingdom. If they were thinking of a Messiah of earthly power and glory, Jesus’ talk of humiliation, rejection and death didn’t make any sense. It would be easy to blot it out.

Or had they misunderstood Jesus because of wishful thinking, because they were desperate that the story of his life and theirs would have a glorious ending? I wonder if like many of us, their focus was on the end result, not the process, like children on a car journey who are only interested in the destination. Were they so fixed on the glory to come and their part in it, that they were unable to countenance the notion that the way to it would be through death on a cross?

You can’t blame them for being confused. God, through Jesus, was turning everything upside down and inside out, including the world’s ideas of power, authority and glory. Jesus had come, not to lord it over others, but to serve and to suffer and in doing so he would fulfill the great prophecy of Isaiah 53.4-12, our Old Testament reading today. He would become God’s suffering servant and any of his followers who wished to be great would need to follow his example.

Jesus makes it clear that to seek greatness is to miss it completely. The first will be last in God’s upside-down kingdom and glory will come to those who are servants of all. It’s about living for what we can do for other people rather than what we can get for ourselves. It’s about wanting to be useful – not important – enjoying working for the good of others without recognition, happy for what we do to go unnoticed and unappreciated because we are doing it in love. In God’s kingdom, glory comes from being willing to serve and to suffer. This is far from the kind of glory James and John had in mind. It is no wonder that they get it so badly wrong.

I find it so helpful that Mark here presents James and John as ordinary people, bewildered and blinkered – people that we can identify with. And yet, there is an amazing confidence and loyalty in their response to Jesus. Misguided they might be about the nature of his glory, their hearts are in the right place. They accept the challenge of their master, naively confident that they will be able to drink the cup of suffering he drinks and be swallowed by the baptism he will endure. And Jesus, in his love for them, acknowledges that they will. These are the people with whom Jesus chooses to set out to change the world. And we know that these two did suffer and die for their faith: James as one of the first Christian martyrs and John, according to tradition, after many years in prison.
October is the month in which we remember St Francis. As you prepare to pray for others, take some time to reflect on the song attributed to him which asks for a servant heart.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there is hatred let me bring your love,
where there is injury, your pardon Lord,
and where there is doubt true faith in You.

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
so much to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love with all my soul.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there is despair in life let me bring hope,
where there is darkness only light
and where there’s sadness ever joy.

Make me a channel of your peace,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in giving to all men that we receive
and in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Make me a channel of your peace,
where there’s despair in life let me bring hope,
where there is darkness only light
and where there’s sadness ever joy.