20th Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection
October 18, 2009
So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Mark 10:42-44
Oh, how I wish….oh, what I want….oh, if only I had….oh, if only I could….oh, you get the picture, don’t you? My grandmother used to remind me quite regularly to “be careful what you wish for, child!” Along the same line, she would sometimes respond to my childish whim-fests with this timeless retort: “If wishes were pennies we’d all be rich.” Yet all her loving admonishments did not stop me from wishing and hoping and dreaming and scheming. Such is the stuff of human nature. In fact, right now I am wishing that it was not really snowing and blowing outside my window this early October morning. Of course, if it was 100 degrees and 90 percent humidity I might be wishing for some of that white stuff!
We humans are funny creatures. We want what we want when we want it. Hey, at least we’re fairly consistent in our brokenness and sinful ways across time, space, and culture. A perfect example is found in the gospel lesson for this week, when two of Jesus closest followers want exactly what they want–regardless of the cost. The brothers James and John want prime seats next to their leader’s throne. They want to make sure that they get a little of that spotlight’s shine, a red carpet moment, and a gracious glimpse of glory. I suppose they figured that they had earned it.
Jesus listens to their unreasonable request and then asks if they are willing to drink from his cup and accept his baptism. Without thinking, those foolish siblings reply affirmatively. They could care less if the cup contained chardonnay or cabernet–whatever it was they wanted it. And as for the ritual washing of baptism, well, what’s a little water anyway, right? Their selfish ambition, overarching desire, and jealous jockeying for position really peeved the other disciples but also offered Jesus a teaching moment about what discipleship truly entails.
The cup from which Jesus drinks is simultaneously bitter and beautiful, common and beyond compare. Jesus’ cup has fingerprints all over it–dirty, dusty, bloody prints from the very model of servant leadership himself and from those who do follow through on their wishes and drink from this difficult cup. It is beautiful in the sense that this common cup’s contents are poured out of the sake of all the world, and those who would drink from it are invited to go into all the world–even the most dark and difficult places–to reflect the light of the gospel. It is bitter because those who put it to their lips will know suffering; their eyes will be opened to see the world through Jesus’ eyes.
As stewards of the gospel we are called to drink from Jesus’ cup and walk wet in the waters of his baptism. This way of walking will not always be easy, and like even Jesus himself did (Matthew 26:39), we may wish the cup to pass us by. It won’t, and we will drink from it as surely as we drink the wine and taste the bread at Christ’s table. But do be careful about what you wish for, because you might just get it. In the getting you may be surprised; but in the walking you will be amazed at all that Jesus is doing through ordinary folk like you and me. So if wish you must, wish to be part of ushering in the reign of God now. Wish to be among the last who think first about bringing hope, peace, and good news to a broken and hurting world. Finally, wish to do so in the name of Christ, who came to serve and who gave his life as a ransom for many–including you and me.
Photo by LifeSuperCharger. Thanks!