Proper 24b 2015: Thank goodness … for that

Job 38:1-7 Psalm 104:1-9, 25, 37c Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45
This is one of the weeks that we have been anticipating. This is the week when Job is told, in no uncertain terms, that God is God and that Job and we are not. There is verbal imagery:
“who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb? – when I made the clouds its garments and thick darkness its swaddling bands…”.
There are God’s challenges to Job:
“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Have you commanded the morning since its days began, and caused the dawn to know its place?”
“Declare, if you know all this,” says God. “Declare.”

We cannot so declare. We know that we are not Job – and probably have figured out that we do not want Job’s problems. Ours are enough, more than enough. We don’t want friends like Job’s. And we do not want to think that are lives are tested quite so extensively from some (bizarre) set-up between God and Satan.

Thank goodness, we might think, that God has not answered our prayers, our challenges to God, like that.

James and John stand up to God, through Jesus. They want to go into battle with Jesus and sit in military might on his left and right flank of armored soldiers. They want to go with Jesus into Jerusalem “in [his] glory,” in military splendor. They want to sit on Jesus’ left and right sides at the victory banquet (now – or in heaven?). How surprised the disciples will be at the mockery of a parade in which they will enter Jerusalem, and at the “coming true” of the events that Jesus foretells. There will be two people at Jesus’ side, one to the left and one to the right, criminals, when Jesus enters into glory. Jesus enters into glory from the cross. Thank goodness, we might think, that God has not answered our requests and prayers to God, like that.

This story is the third time in the gospel of Mark that Jesus has foretold his death and resurrection. This is the third time that the disciples have not understood – they do not see – what is going on. This is the third time that Jesus has told the disciples how it is we are to live, to be, in light of what happens to Jesus/the Son of Man.

“Whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; whoever loses his life … shall save it (8:35).” “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all (9:35)… .” “Whoever wishes to become great … shall be your servant” and “Whoever wishes to be first … shall be slave of all.”

(This note by Narry Santos is helpful:
Three related instances of verbal paradox in the Gospel of Mark include 8:35 (“whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it” and “whoever loses his life . . . shall save it”); 9:35 (“If any one wants to be first, he shall be last of all”); and 10:43-44 (“whoever wishes to become great . . . shall be your servant” and “whoever wishes to be first . . . shall be slave of all”). These statements occur within the context of Jesus’ three Passion predictions (8:31; 9:30-31; 10:32-34), the disciples’ misunderstanding of His passion predictions (8:32; 9:32; 10:35-41), and the ensuing three discipleship discourses of Jesus (8:34-9:1; 9:35-50; 10:42-45).
Jesus’ Paradoxical Teaching in Mk, BlBLlOTHECA SACRA 157 (January-March 2000) 15-25)

The words “it is not so among you,” then, are not about doing but about a way of being. We are called to be transformed (lose our life), to be servants, to be last, even to be slaves, in the transformation of ourselves that comes about by following Jesus. Tough words to hear and to live by. And yet there is good news in Jesus’ words.

We are freed in these words. Freed? Free.
We are free from any pretense that we can do the things that God can do. Our end of the day worries can be handed over to God so that we can sleep well. It is folly to think that we could hold, let alone handle, all of our worries, anyway. Give them to God. Rest well. Those worries are not for you to hold onto, anyway.

We are freed in Jesus’ words; freed from living like the rest of the world. We are not the rest of the world. We are here, together, in worship, in discipline and in discipleship. We are here in the presence of what will become the body and blood of Christ; even right now we are that body. It is not always easy to be; sometimes it is a true challenge to be here, and it is against what culture tells us to do. There is courage in showing up. There is courage in being Christ’s body. There is freedom; we don’t have to live like the rest of the world does.

We are free from having to be the best, have the best, strive for the best, because we have it already in the abundance that we have received from God, and in our lives with our Savior Jesus Christ. Of course our lives will be different. We are being transformed by our master. We have the freedom to say “God isn’t finished with me yet,” and we can say that when everything we know has been taken from us (Job) and when we know that we are walking with Jesus (the disciples).

What we don’t know, and what the disciples did not know, is what the walk with and the following of Jesus will look like. God’s mercy comes in ways we cannot begin to expect. Thank goodness, and thanks be to God, for that.

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