29th Sunday in the year. Readings:
- Isaiah 53, 1-12 a servant who has to suffer
– St. Mark 10, 32-45 the right and the left side
They have a nerve !
The two well-meaning young men in today’s Gospel!
They are prepared to take risks.
They want to follow Jesus – not bad -
They are prepared to stand up for him
even when a lot is asked of them.
But…there ought to be something in it for them:
A place of honour in Heaven, at the end of the struggle,
and preferably on Jesus’ right and left hand.
All credit to Jesus for the care he takes
in his dealings with his disciples,
when he does not accuse Zebedee’s sons in the least
of asking such a thing out of arrogance and recklessness.
Jesus suggests that it is, after all, maybe just the first step
on the path to God -
youthful idealism that should not be sniped at.
So he does not reprimand them, but tests their merit by saying:
‘Can you drink from the cup which I shall drink,
and undergo the baptism which I shall undergo?’
When they answer (still recklessly):
‘YES, WE CAN’
Jesus cannot let that one pass.
If only they could have a little foresight,
i.e., if only they knew themselves a little better!
Just four chapters later
we will read of all the disciples, without exception:
'AND THEY ALL DESERTED HIM AND FLED',
and further on still, we hear who end up on his right and left hand:
two thieves, condemned to the cross.
Today we heard about the suffering of the just
in Isaiah’s text:
‘It was the Lord’s will to crush his servant and cause him suffering.'
It is easy to take this as a sort of fatalistic text:
It is, as it were, ‘written in the stars’,
or rather: it was decreed by the Father and predicted by the prophet
that Jesus would suffer.
But it is not that simple.
In one of our Eucharistic prayers, it says that Jesus
TOOK SUFFERING FREELY UPON HIMSELF.
So, not because it was written in the stars or the old testament books.
Not as fate but … as a consequence
of standing up for the things he stood for.
With his message about God,
Jesus wanted, if possible,
to offer mankind happiness and freedom...
Jesus did not actually want
to suffer at all,
although that might sound strange to our ears.
However.... that appeared to be impossible.
He was regularly declared by the outside world,
and even by his own family,
to be mad or possessed
(especially when he called for human compassion,
friendship and freedom).
And since he wanted to remain who he was and what he was,
he encountered more and more resistance.
Because he wanted to be true to his calling -
a mission of loyalty to, and solidarity with, mankind,
especially those who were oppressed or despised,
he moved towards his inevitable suffering.
A modern psychologist once wrote:
‘His situation is like that of a partridge
as winter approaches:
Its feathers still have the summer camouflage colour,
but when the first snow falls,
it is deprived of all protection
and becomes grotesquely visible to predators from afar’.
Jesus lived as the image of God.
He lived purposefully and convinced
of the importance of His example.
But it was for precisely this reason that He was so vulnerable,
an easy prey for his opponents,
and because of that,
his inner steadfastness filled his disciples with fear.
In St.Mark’s Gospel,
the circle of disciples who fell short of, or lived up to, expectations,
represents the whole church community, then and later.
Nowadays we look at Istanbul, Moscow, Canterbury and Rome.
They are all equally beautiful, with equally rich traditions.
And yet the church will never achieve anything
with smart titles or splendid positions,
but with consistent service, taken to the utmost extreme.
Luckily, there are people in all churches nowadays
who still have the courage to spread the message
that we once took, in Jesus’ name, to Africa and Asia,
and before then to South and North America,
about who the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is,
(who also wanted to be the God of Jesus).
That is a God who took the side of humanity and freedom.
The God who wanted to show total solidarity
with all those who were reviled, persecuted, or tortured,
wherever that may be.
Missionaries are people who
- possibly more than anyone else -
have demonstrated the solidarity
which we as a church feel called upon to show.
They brought medicines and carried out development projects,
before anyone knew that that is what we should be doing.
In a time when people often didn’t look further
than their own Dutch or English back yard,
they went off to spread the message of freedom
throughout the whole world.
Sometimes, the message was embedded in colonial packaging,
but the mission was successful:
churches throughout the developing countries became independent
and resolute, and set themselves free from the old mother countries.
Now they often criticize us on the way we handle our economy
- the myth of our Western prosperity is over -
and even for the way we believe.
Do we take Jesus’ message seriously enough?
Is our life really changed by it?
No. We, as western churches,
Roman Catholic or Anglican in our case,
have fallen asleep.
Nowadays, we have ourselves become missionary countries,
and perhaps the message of Jesus of Nazareth *? should be spread once again,
so that we may take it seriously at last.
*? should ring out strongly once again
We shall have to come down from our thrones.
We shall have to learn from the newer churches,
which we still look down on a bit.
We shall learn from them,
as they have learned from us,
and only then will the old boundaries disappear.
How disgraceful it is that we passed on to them
all the conflicts of the western church,
and how great is the challenge we now face
to really work at ecumenism,
and that means: to spread the message of Jesus Christ
for the good of the whole world.
Jesus exposes the structures of power and violence,
which still cause mankind such misery.
He describes the behaviour of the world powers by saying:
‘You know how the rulers of the world want to lord it over them,
with authority and force.
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,
and whoever would be first among you must be the servant of all’.
In this way, Jesus does not call for a kind of gentle modesty,
but summons us to benefit others with real service and loyalty.
That will have some consequences!
Over the heads of Zebedee’s two well-meaning, but naïve sons,
he assures all who want to be his disciples today:
‘The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized.’
And where will that get you?
First of all, a lot of problems;
it will make your own life harder
if you worry about everything that happens around you,
and want to serve in building a world
in which there is room for all.
However, earlier Jesus had said one good thing:
‘if you follow me,
you will receive comfort a hundredfold in this time’.
That comfort should not be seen as a reward that you have earned,
but as confirmation that you are doing the right thing
and God will be your dear companion.
Let it be so. Amen.