Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity

He goes before us

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In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:32-45) we hear Jesus tell his disciples the third and final prediction of his passion – and the most detailed. But notice what Mark wrote immediately before the start of our reading today: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” The image here is of Jesus walking in a very determined manner, with his face set toward Jerusalem.

·      Jesus goes before the disciples, on the way to crucifixion.

·      Jesus will go before them to Galilee after his resurrection.

·      And Jesus has gone before us as our great high priest, through the heavenly holy of holies, as the pioneer of our faith.

He goes before us. There is nowhere we walk where Jesus has not also walked! So Hebrews encourages us: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”

The way to Jerusalem is “the way” to eternal life, “the way” to liberation from the powers of this world, and “the way” toward the conquest of death itself, not only for Jesus but also for his disciples.

Sacramental reference: when we participate in baptism and drink from the communion cup, are we simply participating in a ritualistic propitiation for our sins? That’s what the words at communion say, but the moral and social dimensions are also there, in the prayers that surround. Certainly, drinking from the cup Jesus drank from and being baptized into the life and death of Jesus should commit us to the things Jesus cared for and died for!

The brothers’ request of Jesus to sit at his right hand and his left is a request for positions of power. James and John sound like kids in the candy store! They show that they are readying themselves, not for the mission that Jesus envisions, but for a world much like the one they already inhabit.

We have the benefit of knowing what James and John do not yet know: that Jesus’ “glory” will be the cross, that at his right and left hands will be two criminals who will die with him. Perhaps an example of divine irony? Notice too that the other ten are angry, perhaps not that James and John ask Jesus for this place of honor, but that they ask it only for themselves, and before the rest of them thought of it!

MLK sermon of 4 Feb 1968 – a sermon on this passage in Mark. I’m quoting the very last section of this long sermon.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world. (The full text of the sermon can be read here.)

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