Each of the three times Jesus predicts His passion, death and resurrection in Mark’s Gospel, we know instantly what’s going to happen.

First, someone will say or do something which demonstrates a misunderstanding of what it means to suffer and die with Jesus. Second, Jesus will criticize them, and explain how He expects His disciples to suffer and die with Him.

For some unknown reason, Jesus’ third prediction is left out of Sunday’s passage (Mk 10: 35-45). We hear only the disciples’ misunderstanding and Jesus’ clarification.

The passage begins with James and John stepping out of the crowd to make a request. "Grant," they ask Jesus, "that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left."

Jesus’ response can’t be more insulting. "You do not know what you ask," He replies. Then He reminds them of what He just said about suffering, comparing it to a submerging baptism and a strong drink.

Dying with Jesus

So far the teaching is rather harmless. The difficulties for Jesus’ followers even 2,000 years later only start when He gets specific about how they’re to die with Him.

"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them," He states, "and their great ones make their authority over them felt." Then He hits them with both barrels: "It shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant, whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all."

His reason for insisting on such disturbing behavior is ironclad. "For the Son of Man," He reminds them, "did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."

When I teach this passage, I always ask my students to give me the monetary value of a ransom. They quickly remind me that the value of a ransom depends on the value of the person being ransomed. Their response is the basis for Jesus’ demanding that His followers die with Him on this level.

To see, appreciate and act on the worth of others will always cause us to suffer and die. We, like both those Gentile rulers and Zebedee’s sons, presume that success in life entails reaching a position of authority which permits us to control those who haven’t attained that position.

One with us

We know from the comments of the author of Hebrews that Jesus’ first-century disciples were impressed with His advice, not His domination: "We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses." The author can only marvel (Heb 4: 14-16). He be-lieved Jesus valued us so highly that He actually became one with us.

It’s no accident that one of the texts from the Hebrew Scrip-tures which Jesus’ earliest followers applied to Him was Deutero-Isaiah’s Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant (Is 53: 10-11). The two verses perfectly summarize their belief about His total giving: "Yahweh was pleased to crush Him in infirmity. If He gives His life as an offering for sin, He shall see His descendants in a long life, and the will of Yahweh shall be accomplished through Him.... Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt He shall bear."

Jesus’ disciples were convinced that a major part of His uniqueness revolved around His interpreting "the will of Yahweh" as having something to do with how highly we value others.

Mark directs Jesus’ words in this passage not so much to the general Christian public as to the leaders of organized Christian religions. It’s to the Twelve that Jesus delivers this specific command to serve. Perhaps we tolerate leaders today who say they serve yet revel in being served because as along as we don’t expect real servants in those positions, then we, like James and John, can also avoid serving others.

(10/16/03)