Discovering Jesus' Glory (22nd Pentecost, Proper 24B)
“Discovering Jesus’ Glory”
By Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda
22nd Sunday After Pentecost (Proper 24B) - October 21, 2018
Mark 10:32-45 (NRSV) They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize 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. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
How do James and John imagine Jesus’ “glory”? What do they think it means for him to be in “his glory”?
They seem to imagine a giant throne room in a palace, with Jesus in the middle and James and John in two chairs on either side of him. It’s a worldly glory that maps onto the social politics of their day. Whatever it is, they want something ambitious and they are willing to make sacrifices to get it.
And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.”
They say they will do whatever it takes to be next to Jesus in his glory. They strive for the glory of King Jesus, Messiah Jesus. They want to rule with him and be his most trusted advisors. They are willing to put in hard work in the revolution in exchange for a seat of power when Jesus’ time comes.
As we approach the midterm election, James and John remind me of dedicated staff members on a campaign. They joined up with Jesus before he was famous. They have followed him around door-to-door proclaiming his greatness and fame. They have memorized the stump speeches that he delivers in town after town.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:15 NRSV
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV (cf. Luke 6).
They know Jesus well and they believe in his cause. They think that he is the Chosen One of Israel. He will overthrow the violent Roman Empire and reform the corrupt religious establishment. Jesus the Son of David will restore Israel to its former glory as in the days of King David.
And they expect that when the battle is won (or election, as it were), they will become high ranking officials in the new government. It is much like when campaign managers transition into Chiefs of Staff or other high profile positions.
And because James and John are early adopters, they want something special. They’re tight with Jesus; he invites them to see special miracles like the raising of a little girl from the dead (Mark 5) or the Transfiguration on a mountaintop (Luke 9). They want him to repay their loyalty by hooking them up with important jobs. They want the premier cabinet roles. They don’t just want to be Secretary of Energy, they want to be Secretary of State or Defense or Treasury.
But, again, the disciples have misunderstood Jesus’ glory. They think that Jesus will satisfy their political ambitions, but he’s doing more than that. He isn’t only the Son of David destined to restore Israel. Jesus is the Son of Man or Humanity, destined by God to restore all human sin. He is here to bring all nations into God’s fold and not through the political machinations of empire (Roman, American, or otherwise).
Jesus’ glory isn’t like that of normal human rulers. His high point isn’t at birth or in his preaching or his miracles or healings. Jesus’ glory comes through the Cross. The ones with the “distinction” of sitting one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory, are not loyal disciples. Jesus says he doesn’t even get to choose them. Instead the Gentiles, that is, the Roman soldiers who execute Jesus select them. Mark writes later, intentionally repeating this phrase: “And with [Jesus] they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left” (Mark 15:27).
This means that Jesus’ glory is found most poignantly in the Cross. The Cross is always the starting place for knowing Jesus in his glory. The Cross is where it begins. Thankfully it isn’t where things end, but if we forget the Cross we lose the whole message.
Jesus’ glory is also revealed in the Resurrection, and his Coming Again. But the glory of God and the mystery of our faith must take this threefold shape: “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.”
If we emphasize one without the other three, we miss out on the fullness of Jesus’ message. The most tempting thing for American Christians (who are accustomed to the privileges of empire) is to skip the Cross in favor of the Resurrection or Heaven.
This is especially true for those who feel called to lead in any arena of life. When people entrust you with power (or you take it for yourself), it’s easy to let it go to your head. It’s easy to forget that the path for Christian leaders is not to be served but to serve.
The Gentiles who rule with an iron fist of domination are the same ones who crucified Jesus. He said this right before James and John’s request: “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again” (Mark 10:33-34 NRSV).
And so Jesus doesn’t want us to be brave like James and John. That’s selfish bravery, in the pursuit of what’s best for me. Jesus’ bravery is his willingness not to be served but to serve. It’s his willingness to lose his life as a ransom for many. He is willing to humble himself out of love for the whole world. And he calls us to follow him in that terrifying and glorious path.
The Christian life is supposed to be an adventure. It’s easy to forget that when American religion is oh so tame and private. But Jesus dreams way bigger than any of us do. He talks about the Kingdom of Heaven on earth where the lowly are raised, the hungry are fed, and even the animals live in peace with each other. That is bold, radical stuff. And to get there we need some courage. We need some perseverance. We need the grace of God’s Spirit leading us to the Cross, to the Empty Tomb, and to Jesus’ Awesome Return to us.
So let us follow Jesus into the dangerous mystery of faith. Let us join him on the adventurous path of loving service. For Christ has died; Christ Is Risen; Christ will come again.
Davis, D. Mark. “James and John Call Shotgun.” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published October 2012. Accessed 19 October 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/10/james-and-john-call-shotgun.html?m=1
-----. “Saving and Losing One’s Life/Soul.” Left Behind and Loving It. Blog. Published 14 October 2018. Accessed 19 October 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2015/10/saving-and-losing-ones-lifesoul.html?m=1