'For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin...' -- Hebrews 4:15

It's been over a month since we've heard the second of Mark's three predictions of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. Finally, we have the third.

Following the same pattern of the previous two, it begins with the prediction -- which, for some reason, has been omitted in Sunday's liturgical reading (Mark 10:35-45) -- then is quickly followed by a misunderstanding of what it means to die, and then concludes with Jesus' clarifying the issue.

In chapter 8, it's Peter who has a problem dying with Jesus. The 12 Apostles follow suit in chapter 9. Here, in chapter 10, the honor goes to James and John. Totally missing Jesus' point about first dying then rising, the brothers foolishly ask to be given the "glory seats" when He comes into His glory.

Mark's Jesus initially cuts them down by simply replying, "You do not know what you are asking." When the other 10 "become indignant" at the brothers' request, He clarifies what dying with Him actually entails.

In the first prediction/misunderstanding/clarification passage, dying revolved around being open to whatever God asks of us; in the second, accepting even the community's most insignificant members as important. Here, in the third, He takes our dying one step further.

Ransom for many
"You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you," Jesus says. Then He outlines His dream of an authority structure which turns all other such structures upside down: "Whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."

In Jesus' ideal community, the persons who serve others are more important than the people who are served. There were slaves during Jesus' and the evangelist's day. What we now regard as metaphorical language was looked at differently 2,000 years ago. Slaves then were expected to give themselves over to their masters. Their lives revolved around being at the beck and call of others.

Jesus not only demands the same of His followers, He even goes beyond that by mentioning that He regards Himself as a "ransom" for many.

When I ask my students, "What's a ransom worth?" they respond, "Whatever the person being ransomed is worth." I presume a kidnapper would expect to get more for Pope Francis than for the pastor of Renault. That means that Jesus and His imitators gauge their value by the value of those they serve: If we're important, it's only because we serve important people.

Suffer for others
The prophet Deutero-Isaiah (Isaiah 53:10-11) seems to have been the first biblical person to come up with this idea of "vicarious suffering" -- the belief that one person can suffer for another. His disciples, in Sunday's Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, reflect on that phenomenon: "Through His suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt shall he bear."

In our Hebrews (4:14-16) passage, some of Jesus' earliest disciples regarded His death and resurrection as exemplifying vicarious suffering. Just as the Jewish high priest offered sacrifices for the people, so Jesus -- one of us -- offered Himself for us. As Deutero-Isaiah's followers expressed it, "By His wounds, we're healed."

Jesus, like the prophet, had more than the smell of the sheep on Him. He actually took on their sins. There's no way we can more deeply serve others.