The Rev. Joseph P. Mathews
21 October 2012
Proper 24, B
In 2008 Vintage 21, a multi-campus chuch in North Carolina, dubbed some Jesus videos from the 60s or 70s.
Jesus says things, sometimes with a sarcastic tone, like “I walked on water, I think I can walk through the door” after the triumphal entry on a donkey.
This is followed someone asking “Hey Jesus, will my donkey get into heaven now?”
When Jesus walks into the temple for the cleansing he asks, “What in the name of me is going on here?”
He then flips tables over and says “You’re not supposed to be having fun here; you’re supposed to be praying and reading your bibles.”
All the while three Pharisees are looking in on him and worried that they’re going to get it. When they walk in, as he’s lecturing the crowds, he says about the Pharisees,
“these three think they can get into heaven just because they’re dressed like the wise men.”
While these videos are silly, and I think hilarious, they have a few things in common with our hearing of today’s Gospel passage.
First, those doing the dubbing know the entirety of the Jesus story and clearly let the present affect how they retell the story.
Clearly Jesus wouldn’t have said “What in the name of me?” or referenced people dressing like magi.
Secondly, these videos also consistently show that the disciples just don’t get Jesus — and that sometimes we don’t either.
Today’s gospel passage brilliantly brings that to light,
and because of THAT, when I read this text I hear it in my head as though Vintage 21 Church has created an audio dubbed version of it.
“Jesus! We have a favor to ask!” James and John say to him.
Exasperatedly Jesus sighs and says, “What do you want?”
“Let us sit beside you forever in heaven!”
“Really? That’s what you want? Can you handle it?”
“You know we can, boss!”
“Well, you’re going to have to handle the stuff I have to deal with, but I can’t give you what you’re asking.”
Unlike the disciples, we know the entire story of Mark’s Gospel.
Not just the very end, where the women run away from the empty tomb,
but the part before that when Jesus is seized, crucified, and dies.
We know that the baptism Jesus faces and the cup he drinks are those not of happiness and celebration that he can give to the disciples,
but are of suffering that must be endured before God makes all things well in the resurrection.
What James and John do today is absurd, and not at all the behavior of disciples.
James and John are concerned for themselves and how everyone will see them at the end of time.
The way disciples are made is by following their teacher, their master.
Rather than asking favors of the one forming them, they follow and do as they are told. When they ask Jesus he responds with a question that doesn’t ask if they really want what they’re asking.
No, the question about his baptism and cup are about him.
He asks them, in not so many words, “Can you do what I’m going to do?
Can you follow me to then end?”
Our knowing then story means knowing that Jesus is asking if they will die because of living like he did and doing as he’s taught.
The compilers of Mark’s gospel were careful here – as they usually are – in the choice of images they used.
That they have Jesus asking about a baptism and a cup is no coincidence.
In the time between Jesus’s ascension and the time the Gospels were written, people told stories about Jesus.
The stories they remembered weren’t always word for word, but certain themes emerged.
They remembered Jesus taking bread and wine, blessing it, breaking it, sharing it, and telling them to continue doing that in his remembrance.
They remembered that he was baptized and that he told people to go into the world baptizing others.
The first Christians, before they were reading Mark, were following Jesus’ actions around water and meal.
In water and meal, they remembered and we remember Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
Jesus asks his disciples in all ages to follow him.
In baptism we promise to follow him by dying to sin, embracing our own deaths when required, and renouncing evil.
For many people the promises of baptism are often made by someone else in their name.
Those making promises on behalf of someone else also promise to be responsible for seeing
that the child presented is brought up in the Christian faith and life and
by prayers and witness helping the child to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Rather than being a magic act or a Good House Keeping Seal of Approval, baptism is an all in commitment to following Jesus.
To follow him we have to learn from and learn about him.
Being around disciples is how disciples are made.
James and John presumed to make a demand of the teacher, and the other students don’t like it a bit, so they pounce.
Jesus doesn’t want any of that either and rebukes the whole lot.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you must be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The baptism Jesus faced was one of suffering and death, and in ours we promise to follow him as we face the same.
When we drink the cup given to us in this Eucharistic feast, we remember this death and proclaim his resurrection while we wait for his coming in glory.
We pray that we will serve God as we receive the sacrament.
If we serve God the way Jesus served God, then we have to be in the thick of the sufferings of the world.
We have to know the pains of others, regardless of how well we may know them, and suffer with them.
We must have compassion.
James and John ask to sit at Jesus’ right hand, but he tells them that’s not his decision to make.
Rather than celebrations and crowns now for disciples having done great things,
they are promised that death has been defeated and they will be raised up.
Rather than being victorious because we’ve demanded it, we are victorious in God’s works of redemption.
In celebration and preparation of the fullness of that redemption, we try, often with about as much success as the disciples, to follow him.
Are we able to drink the cup Christ drank, or be baptized with the baptism with which he was baptized?