One of the things which I often encourage you to do as a congregation is to read the stories we hear from the scriptures a little more broadly. Today is a good example of the need to do this as we read again from Mark’s gospel a story which when taken as part of the longer narrative of Mark has more to it than meets the eye.
At the beginning of Mark’s gospel we hear that the story Mark is telling is the good news of Jesus Christ the son of God. One of the prevailing themes of Mark then becomes who knows and understands this and who doesn’t.
The disciples play a special role in mark as foil for what is occurring through the story particularly in the notion of how Jesus was misunderstood.
A few chapters earlier in chapter 8 of Mark’s gospel Peter, who seems to be the leader of the 12, declares the truth of Jesus identity. It is a pivotal moment in the gospel of Mark when one of the disciples actually confesses what the reader of the gospel already knows.
The question might be asked whether after this point a change comes over the disciples as a group – do they understand Jesus and respect him any better?
Of course what we find is that once Peter declares his understanding as to Jesus identity Jesus begins to teach the disciples about his death. Peter, despite having just making this startling statement about Jesus, rebukes Jesus and so denies his teaching.
The disciples appear not to understand or respond any better even once they know who Jesus is, in fact if anything things get worse.
Twice in the ninth chapter Jesus teaches the disciples concerning his death and on both occasions the disciples who are present fail to understand the teaching.
For people who are listening to the story or reading it and know where it ends up, the cross and resurrection, the behaviour of the disciples is bamboozling. How can they not get it? How can they not listen?
But not only do they not listen, the disciples begin to argue among themselves about who of them is the greatest among them.
And then later, in today’s gospel, James and John turn up asking for favours. Do whatever we ask of you? They say. Grant that we might sit on your right and left hand in glory.
The allusion that they make about sitting on the right and left hand is a direct reference to meal hospitality where the honoured guests sit closest to the host.
Jesus answer once again points at his impending death. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptised with the baptism with which I will be baptised? These are direct references to Jesus death and by the swiftness and ease of their response at this point James and John do not seem to get it – they do not understand the consequences.
As the reading unfolds the other disciples get annoyed at James and John no doubt for jockeying for power but Jesus once again challenges them.
Being his disciples is not about position and authority and power it is about service. The greatest among them will the one who serves and Jesus says even he, the Son of man came not be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.
It is ultimately in the giving of his life that Jesus reorders the relationship between God and people, it is an act of self sacrifice and generosity by God to include people within his loving and living kingdom. God serves humanity and the whole creation.
This is what is meant to typify being a follower of Jesus, not claims at power and authority, but the serving of others.
It is a mindset which the disciples really struggle with and it is mindset that we no less struggle with. How do we see our lives as serving others not simply gaining benefits for ourselves? Is our faith about the rewardss we get or the service we give?
This is a pertinent reading for us this week as we prepare for the week ahead as a congregation. Next weekend 2 events of the congregation are occurring in which we are called to think about our place and purpose in St Lucia.
Firstly, next Saturday morning we are holding a planning day to think and pray and discuss about how we can serve the community around us and share the good news of Jesus Christ.
The day has been arranged by the Church Council and is open to anyone who is interested. If you can’t come along we invite you to pray for wisdom, creativity and insight as we consider how we might be faithful to what God is asking of us as a congregation in this area.
Secondly, next Sunday we are going to be focussing on others in our worship service as we take into consideration the beginning of the study week and exam period for the university. More specifically we have informed students and staff from some of the residential colleges of our care and concern for them as they enter study week.
As a congregation of Jesus' followers, as Jesus' disciples, it is good to be challenged again by Jesus words of correction to his disciples who were focussed on themselves and their own potential rewards.
As recipients of God’s unconditional grace let us also contemplate the gift of grace we have received and live lives of thankfulness for this grace of God.