What do you do when you feel fear?
It can be the dreaded phone call that you or a loved one has cancer. News about personal or business financial collapse. An issue in your neighborhood, or something about the refugee crises across the globe. I believe you can tell a lot about people by what they do in a crises. There are a few standard responses. It can lead us into a deep depression, where not just the issue at hand, but everything in life seems out to get us. It can lead to a deer in the headlights moment, where we are so stunned we can’t do anything. Some folks will buckle down and double up their efforts to fix whatever is going on. Then there is denial. Pretending the situation doesn’t exist, or at least that something else much more pressing or much more fun just has to be dealt with first. Or grasping at anything that will make us feel safe in the midst of chaos. And that leads us to the gospel passage. For some context about today’s reading: James and John and the rest of the 12 had just heard some really hard news. We skip over it in the lectionary this year, but between last week’s reading where Jesus is telling everyone how difficult it is to enter the Kingdom of God, and to be saved, and today’s reading, Jesus tells the 12 disciples for the third time what is going to happen to him:
We are going up to Jerusalem,” he said, “and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”
Now the disciples had already been through a lot with Jesus. Let’s take a brief jaunt through Mark thus far. The disciples probably had heard the preaching of John the Baptist, and maybe knew of his baptism of Jesus. Perhaps Jesus had told stories of his time being tempted in the desert. The disciples were then called to travel with Jesus. They saw him cast out demons and do many healings. Jesus has eaten with sinners, and gotten into tangles with the Jewish leaders. He has taught in parables and preformed miracles, from the feeding of the 5000 to walking on water. Sometimes the whole crowd has been there to witness, and sometimes it was more intimate with just the inner circle of the 12. The disciples themselves have been sent out to do healings. James, John and Peter then got to witness something the others didn’t - the Transfiguration. So many ups and downs in the adventure they were on. Perhaps they were thinking they were just beginning to understand what this Jesus person was all about, or maybe they felt that they never would figure him out. And now, for the third time, they hear a prediction of his death. And not a gentle death, but condemned by the chief priests and teachers of the law, then being mocked and flogged and spit upon. But also that he would rise in 3 days. Certainly a moment that could spark fear and uncertainty. Their whole world has been turned upside down and all around the last few years, and now this?? What would you do? Panic? Run and hide? Gather an army against the Chief Priests and Gentiles?
I would venture to say that we have tested ourselves with a similar situation recently. Our experience in the last year and a half has a similar crazy feel to it - our whole world has been turned upside down, and the twists and turns keep coming. A world wide pandemic, a bitter and divisive political climate, climate change issues, deep racial divides coming to the surface, refugees of an unimaginable scale. Plus whatever has been going on in your personal life. 2020 threw me for a loop and then some, but I’ve heard so many stories that are just as over the top. And here we are. Oct 17, 2021. What have we done with the insanity?
We know what James and John did. They asked to be given a place of honor and prestige, above the fray. I believe they asked this because they thought it would make them safe. For safely is one of our primal needs. Perhaps they thought: We know Jesus can do amazing things. As long as we can be by his side, now and into his glory, we will be safe. With the chaos looming all around, this will make us safe.
Where have you looked to feel safe during this last year and a half? Was it making sure you were first in line for the vaccine? Looking at all the news you could so you could get some real answers? Or perhaps turning the news off all together. Some people kept a very small bubble of folks they would hang out with. Others kept their same large social gatherings, perhaps thinking that if didn’t pay it any mind, it couldn’t get to them, it wasn’t real.
But Jesus offered another way to the disciples in his midst, and to us. Serve others, he said. Don’t think you are the great one, but humble yourself to others. Don’t do like the world does, like the gentiles do, and let power go to your head, and become tyrannical over those you rule. Rather, become a servant, become a slave. Words difficult to accept.
The word slave in this passage was quite hard for me to deal with. I looked up the Greek to see if it had a kinder gentler connotation. But no, it was doulos, slave. After doing some research and reading various commentaries, I have come to an understanding of it. I understand it in the context of Paul and other writers of the new testament letters who call themselves slaves to Christ. It is in serving others that we are doing the will of the Lord our God. If we are owned completely by Christ, he can say to us: You are mine, you are safe already. I will care for you, protect you, love you. All you need to do is my will - serve others, care for them, protect them, love them. You don’t have to figure it all out, just listen for my words, my orders for you. It won’t always make sense. What you thought you were supposed to do, what the world trained to you do and how it trained you to be is very different from what I am inviting you to do and be. And it may not always feel safe in the world’s definition. But remember, you are in the world, not of the world.
I think he was saying, be in alignment with who you truly are. And we truly are loved children of God.
The disciples didn’t get it right away, or right all the time. We don’t get it right all the time. But God is patient. When James and John were grasping at safety, rather than being grounded in the knowledge that they were already safely in God’s arms, Jesus didn’t chastise them as the other disciples did. Rather, Jesus showed them this other way. Jesus shows us this way with his words and with his life. God is and will continue to be gentle with us. He shows us the way through our personal, national and global situations. We just have to follow Jesus’s lead, and say Please God, but not my will, thy will. Thank you God.