If I had to pick one passage of scripture that encapsulated the entirety of the Christian message, I might very well pick Mark 10:32-45.
I return to this passage repeatedly in my classes and in my reflections on what it means to live faithfully as a Christian, because here the story unfolds to show us not only what Jesus came to do, but also what it means for how we are, in turn to live. But that’s not all. The passage finds much of its power from its unveiling not of Jesus but of the human heart that hears and yet refuses to hear his call.
The first scene is Jesus’ teaching to the twelve: for the third time Jesus is predicting that what awaits in Jerusalem is his own rejection, death, and resurrection.
And, for the third time, the disciples respond in such a way as to show that they do not yet get what Jesus is on about.
James and John come asking for seats of glory: one at Jesus right hand and the other at Jesus’ left in his glory. Jesus then draws them back to his passion prediction: can you drink my cup or be baptized with my baptism?
And here is where we have to keep coming back over and over because it never seems to sink in. To be part of the kingdom that comes by way of the cross is to accept the cross as not only the saving event that occurred to Jesus but also the way of life to which w ourselves are called.
The cross is the narrative of Christianity, and our calling is to play out that narrative in the various worlds in which we find ourselves.
As if the story of James and John were not humiliating enough, the other disciples hear of it and grumble! Jesus’ response indicates that the source of their agitation is not that James and John have so clearly failed to apprehend the call to discipleship; instead, they are angry that James and John sought to edge them out for the prize that all of them wanted.
And so Jesus tells them all, again, that his cruciform ministry, if true, means that a new economy is in play; the way of power and glory as articulated by the Powers of the earth is being undone. Yes, of course, those who want to be great among the gentiles lord their power over others and wield the might of their authority…But…
“But it shall not be thus among you.”
Did you get that part?
“But it shall not be thus among you.”
There’s your half-verse to memorize today.
There is a different way of living, a different way of understanding greatness, a different path of power that comes with the advent of the dominion of God: “Whoever wants to be great among you, that person must be y’all’s servant; and, whoever wants to be first among y’all, must be servant of all.”
On what basis can Jesus make such an absurd claim about power and glory?
On the basis of his own mission: “For even the son of man did not come to be served but to serve…” Note how his own mission forms the texture of the call to discipleship. Jesus is the servant to show his followers what their lives of service should look like.
You might also note the surprise of this claim. In Daniel 7, all dominions serve the son of man. Jesus inaugurates his reign by doing exactly the opposite.
The self-giving service of this son of man, the sacrifice of his life, yields the fruit of a redeemed people, a people ransomed from their slavery to the opposing forces we’ve seen throughout the Gospel. There, at last, is your interpretation of the cross as well: this self-giving service brings freedom.
So why would I pick this passage as one of my short list of possible passages that tell us everything we need to know?
(1) It tells us what Jesus did for us and what that means. He died and rose again–and this giving is an act of freeing, of ransom.
(2) It tells us what that means for our lives. Jesus served unto death, therefore we are to serve one another.
(3) It shows us how our hearts can confess Jesus as sovereign master, acknowledge even that he had to die for us, and yet fail altogether in drawing the conclusion that we are thereby freed to pursue greatness along the road of self-giving service. Instead, that creeping normalcy self-serving “giving” turns even our following of Jesus into an idol for our own selfish advancement.