Christ our Servant shapes us in our lives as servants, helping us every step of the path of Christ, for the sake of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 29 B
Text: Mark 10:(32-34) 35-45
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We’ve finally come to the place Mark’s been leading us in his Gospel for weeks now.
There’s one more story in chapter 10 after today, a healing we’ll hear next week. Then Mark enters Holy Week, the palms, the betrayal, the death, the resurrection. We walked that with Mark last spring.
Ever since Jesus started traveling to Jerusalem and we joined him in chapter 8, he’s been telling his followers, telling us, telling you, that he’s heading there to be beaten and killed. And to rise from death. And he’s been calling his followers, calling us, calling you, to take this same Christ path of self-giving love, letting go, losing for the sake of others.
And his followers, including me, including you, have been struggling with this. We’ve seen Peter and John fail to get it, and frankly, it’s hard for us, too.
Today, after all this, days from Holy Week, two of his trusted leaders still don’t get it. They respond to Jesus’ latest warning of his imminent suffering by asking for the honored seats when he comes in glory. Clueless.
Maybe the fact that these two important ones still struggle after weeks of instruction and guidance from Jesus should make us feel better. But it doesn’t change that we are also struggling with Jesus.
It’s really hard following someone who leads on such a challenging path.
The writer to the Hebrews calls Jesus the “pioneer” of our faith. Pioneers go ahead, blaze a trail, lead. Jesus leads the path of Christ for all of us, modeling the self-giving love, facing suffering and death ahead of us.
But following someone who’s that focused on a path is not easy. I once was traveling in tandem with someone who drove through a yellow light that changed to red for me. We were supposed to drive together for 8 hours. Instead, I spent 8 hours wondering if I’d ever catch up.
That’s what following Christ on this path feels like sometimes. Like we’re children following a long-legged, determined parent, always trying to catch up. Stumbling, getting tired. Not really handling the path well. Frightened of the next steps, and our leader is so far ahead and has done it so well, we’re alone in this. It’s lonely and frightening and confusing and daunting and overwhelming to always feel behind.
The thing is, Jesus isn’t actually ahead of us on the path.
The last word of Jesus in these chapters about losing like Jesus we heard today: “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Christ Jesus, the Son of God, is your servant. Not ahead of you, making you fear you’ll be left behind. At your feet, washing them. At this table, offering you food for life. It’s not just suffering coming next for these disciples in Holy Week. Jesus will show them he’s there for them on this path. As their servant. As our servant. As your servant.
What Hebrews fully says is Jesus is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb. 12:2) The one who completes your faith, helps your discipleship, shapes your servant life.
All this self-giving love, this servant path of Christ we keep hearing about, is made possible by the Great Servant, our God-with-us, who completes in us, in you, this life of faith.
He does this as he did for these disciples, first by teaching.
All this time as they walked to Jerusalem, Jesus prepared them for what was ahead for him, and for them if they follow. But this whole journey Jesus wasn’t impatiently running ahead, chewing them out for not keeping up. He just kept at it, teaching them, helping them understand his way. Correcting them when they misunderstood.
Yes, it was hard sometimes when he corrected. Ask Peter. But his love was always there. Look at James and John today. They’re asking for a ridiculous thing, they’re completely disconnected from Jesus’ focus. But Jesus is gentle with them. He just says they don’t know what they’re asking. And they don’t – they think they can handle what he’s facing, his cup, his baptism.
Of course they don’t know Jesus will struggle with that cup himself in Gethsemane, and in the baptism of his crucifixion will cry out in abandonment. But Jesus just says, “Yes, you will experience the same as I.”
That’s your Servant Teacher: firm, clear, never wavering from the path, but constantly trying to reach you with different images and words, always loving you, even when you struggle repeatedly with the lesson.
That kindness comes because Christ also has empathy for your weakness, not just lessons.
Even human priests can have this gift, Hebrews says today, but Christ Jesus does completely. He lived as one of us, knew how hard it can be to be faithful. He will soon undergo a great trial of his path in Gethsemane. He knows what it is to fear, to wish to avoid painful consequences of sacrificial love.
So, Hebrews says, he “is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.” Your Servant Christ is at your side fully understanding your fear, your weakness, your confusion as you seek to be faithful. Empathizing with you, and even more, strengthening you. Healing you, as Hebrews says.
And Christ your Servant knows the full pain and suffering of loving as God loves.
In fact, he knows it far worse than most of us ever will. A few days after this promise, he goes to the cross. To find power in powerlessness, healing in self-giving love, grace in losing himself for everyone.
The Servant who walks by your side has experienced it all. When you suffer trying to be faithful, when you are hurt because you refuse to hurt others, when you lose because you won’t live a life that defeats other lives, you are always upheld by the Pioneer who did it first, who now completes your faith by strengthening you in your suffering and difficulty.
James and John didn’t know what they were facing, but Jesus did.
And Jesus knows the same about you and me. In baptism we are joined to Christ’s path for the sake of the world. Anointed and set apart to be servants to the world on behalf of God, bearers of God’s love and mercy and justice. It’s a costly path, as we follow Christ and walk alongside others as servants ourselves. Empathizing with their weakness and struggle, because we know weakness and struggle. Sharing their suffering because we know that it costs to let go in order to follow.
But grace upon grace: your Servant, God-with-us, is always at your side, walking beside you. Helping complete your faith and your discipleship. Every step of the way.
In the name of Jesus. Amen