My Dear Parishioners,
As we continue our study on Mark’s Gospel (10:35-45), what comes to your mind when you think of the crucifixion of Jesus? Perhaps you think of going to church and singing well-known hymns such as ‘There is a green hill far away’, or ‘When I survey the wondrous cross’. Perhaps you think of a picture or a statue of the Cross: a crucifix, reminding you of the sorrow and suffering of Jesus, and somehow bringing consolation and hope into your own sorrow and suffering. Perhaps you think of the brutality that could have dreamed up that way of killing people - and of the similar brutalities that still deface God’s world today. Perhaps you have an image in your mind of the crowds at the foot of the Cross, some mocking Jesus, some in tears. Perhaps in your picture, you are there with them, watching Him die.
Towards the end of his gospel, Mark is going to tell us the story of how Jesus was crucified. And he wants us to hold in our minds several pictures which will give us the full meaning of the scene, for Jesus, for Israel, for the world, and for ourselves. In this passage he wants, as it were, to sow the seeds of these different pictures. These seeds will germinate during the next few chapters, and come to flower as Jesus celebrates His final meal with His followers, prays in Gethsemane, stands before the authorities, and finally meets His death. It will help us at this stage of the gospel if we look at these seeds one by one. This is the third time Jesus has solemnly warned the disciples about what’s going to happen to Him. It isn't taking Him by surprise. Its part of the vocation which has gripped Him since, at least, the voice at His baptism, which echoed Isaiah’s prophecy about the servant (Ch.40-55). Still many people in our time struggle to find ways of telling the story of Jesus without having the Cross in the middle of it. But from Jesus’ own pronouncements onwards the claim that He not only died by crucifixion, but did so as the climax of a thought-out vocation has always been at the centre of authentic Christianity.
James and John want to turn Jesus’ messianic journey to Jerusalem into a march to glory - a glory in which they will sit on either side of Him when He reigns as King. They have clearly heard all the language about suffering, death and rising again simply as a set of pictures, perhaps meaning , ‘it’s going to be tough, but we are going to come out on top.’ But the cross is not, for Jesus or for Mark, a difficult episode to be endured on the way to a happy ending. It is precisely God’s way of standing worldly power and authority on its head. When, at the end of this passage, Jesus quotes the servants song (to give His life as a ransom for many), He is making the point, with which Isaiah would have emphatically agreed, that the Kingdom of God turns the world’s ideas of power and glory upside down and inside out.
This full and major Markan statement about the meaning of the cross, in context, is first and foremost a political interpretation. The cross isn’t just about God forgiving our sins, because of Jesus’ death (though of course this is central to it). Because it is God’s way of putting
the world and ourselves, to rights, it challenges and subverts all the human systems which claim to put the world to rights but in fact only succeed in bringing a different set of human beings on top. The reason James and John misunderstand Jesus is exactly the same as the reason why many people down to our own day, are desperate to find a way of having Jesus without having the Cross as well: the Cross calls into question all human pride and glory. This is bound to carry political meanings, and dangerous ones at that.
The final ‘seed’ is provided by Jesus’ comment about those who will sit at His right hand and at His left. James and John don’t know what they are asking for, but Mark’s readers, after a few chapters of waiting in suspense, will discover it. When Jesus sits in His glory, with one at His right and another at His left, it will be on the cross. Mark has given us a stark picture both of what true kingly glory looks like and what Jesus’ death will mean. We must now let him water these seeds and watch them start to grow. As we do so, we must remember again that one of Mark’s underlying themes throughout these chapters is that of following Jesus. When we look at the picture he is drawing, we too may be amazed, horrified and afraid. But Jesus is going up to Jerusalem, turning the world’s values and power systems right side up, setting off to give His life as a ransom for many. If we want to receive what He has to offer, we have no choice but to follow Him.
With all good wishes and prayers Fr. Chris Archibald