Year B Proper 24 Mark 10
The Three Poison Pills of Position, Prestige, and Power
Where did Washington learn such leadership skills? I have no doubt he learned them here. In these words of Jesus: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. The young corporal had these words modeled to him from the man at the top. The disciples, likewise, receive from their leader a picture of servant hood.
And it is high time they start imitating their leader. It is now five days before Jesus' crucifixion. Four days before his betrayal and trial. One day before the clearing of the temple. A few hours before the Triumphal Entry. If the Disciples are going to start appropriating Jesus' teachings in their life it ought to be now. But it doesn't happen. Moments before the most crucial events in their life they are a bickering, petty, bad-tempered quarrelsome lot. We need to learn from this not-so-flattering moment in the life of the disciples.
How is it that critical moments can be so close at hand and we are off wondering what's in it for me? It has to do with the three poison pills of:
- And Power
Sometimes we can get things so perfectly wrong that we don't have even a hint that we've stepped in it again. Here's one example:
Drive through any town or suburb in America and you will see signs announcing the names of local churches. There will be a "First Presbyterian", a "First United Methodist", a "First Baptist", a "First United Church of Christ." Only after the "First" designation has been snapped up to later churches start to shop around for a different name. "Second" isn’t very popular. Better to be "Third" or "Fourth." There is even one "Twelfth Presbyterian Church" that I know of. Every church wants to be "First." And if they can't be first, most abandon being numbered altogether.
There is a church in Dayton, Ohio, founded and pastored by the Rev. Dr. Daryl Ward, that has taken a step out of that traditional line up. They call themselves "Omega Baptist Church." What is "Omega?" "Omega" is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. The divine declaration of being "the alpha and the omega" is another way of saying "the first and the last." In other words, "Omega Baptist Church" isn't claiming "first" place for itself. It is putting itself at the end of the line. It's another way of calling itself the "Last Baptist Church."
Being last, being the bottom of the heap, being so far out of the competition that the competition doesn't even know you are there, is so NOT the place any of us want to be. The American dream of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps," of homegrown grit and a gimcrack, "go-get-'em" spirit, is the capstone of our society. The reward of hard work is to get ahead, get to the top, to be first in all you do. Second place is second rate. We all want to "go for the gold." We all want to win.
James and John, the "Sons of Zebedee," certainly did. In today's gospel text they try to shake Jesus down. "Teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." Isn't that a shake-down? They want to ensure for themselves the best seats in the house at the messianic banquet in the glorified future. They want to sit at the head of the table, on the right and the left hand of Jesus himself. They want the honor that they think should come from following Jesus.
But Jesus turns their hoped-for hierarchy on its head...