The Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
The Very Reverend Nicolette Papanek, Interim Dean
Mark 10:35-45

May my words be your word and my heart rest in you as I speak, O Lord. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.

“You don’t know what you’re asking.” That’s what Jesus says to the disciples this morning. He says it to James and John when they ask to sit at Jesus’ right hand and left hand when he comes into his glory. And when they ask, Jesus must be thinking something like this. “You don’t know what you’re asking. You have no idea. I’ve been talking but you haven’t been listening. I’ve been teaching but you haven’t been learning. I’ve been walking a road that leads to death and you keep missing the road signs. Do you still not get what my kind of greatness means?”

James and John say they want to be great. But learning how to be great in Jesus’ world is a completely different kind of greatness. Jesus teaches us
• Being great depends on God alone
• Being great means we are God’s companions to the least and the lost
• Being great means freely give our wealth back to God because we know it came from God and belongs to God
• Being great means becoming the person God created us to be from our beginning

And here’s the part of Jesus’ greatness we really don’t like:
• Being great means suffering

“Can you drink the cup I will drink?” Jesus asks. And like a couple of enthusiastic team members who aren’t really listening to the coach, James and John say, “Sure we can! We’re ready. Bring it on!”

Have we said the same thing? If we were baptized as adults, or confirmed at what we call “the age of reason?” Did we really know what we were promising? Did anyone warn us what being great for Jesus means? Maybe. But we probably didn’t really hear it.

Jesus has taught us these last weeks that who we are and what we do as followers, as disciples, is an inverted and upside down view of the greatness the world dangles in front of us each day. Are we listening?

Jesus teaches us to say no to greatness that corrupts so we can say a deeper yes to his greatness. Are we listening?

I think I can hear some brains buzzing. Some of the buzzing might be a low hum like mine is from time to time: Being great like that doesn’t interest me. That kind of greatness gets you nothing. I need power to get along in this world. I need to be strong, not weak. And furthermore, what was that about suffering? I thought following Jesus meant comfort, warmth, having all my problems miraculously taken away, and being happy all the time. You know, basking in the warmth of Jesus; being loved.

It’s pretty clear to me the two disciples in today’s Gospel, James and John, want that kind of Jesus. And they want the greatness they think he’s offering. They want to sit on Jesus’ right hand and at his left hand when he comes into his glory. James and John want Jesus’ greatness because they have either forgotten or chosen to ignore what Jesus has been teaching them.

Do you remember who really gets to be on the left and right hands of Jesus? Two bandits. Captured and found guilty. Two weakling criminals not smart enough to escape the law. They were the ones on Jesus’ right and left hands when he died. Not the disciples who ran away when things got tough and they were in danger of losing their own lives. Not Peter who denied Jesus three times. Not even the women at the foot of the cross. Nope. Two thieves. Two deadbeats who’d led lives of crime and made others suffer. And the greatness they received was to be hung on a cross on either side of the suffering savior. This is being great?

Yes, this is Jesus’ greatness. If we really thought about it, most of us would say no Jesus’ greatness. The cup of Jesus’ greatness is the willingness to suffer by saying no to the world to say a deeper yes to Him. Yes to the one holy and gracious being who lived among us as human flesh, the one who gives us the only greatness worth having.

When we claim the power of Jesus we claim the power of a Lord who gave his life as a ransom for many. He gave his all, every bit of himself from first to last. He gave up all so we might have all.

This is the power that, if we are willing to claim it, is God’s to give and ours to give away. It is the power to retitle what we own as God’s, not ours. It is the power to give so our doors can be opened to an even wider world. It is the power to give so the mystery and majesty of our worship and the tenderness of prayer and the strength of wisdom can be shared with those who need it most. It is the power to sing so others hear us and are drawn by beauty into beauty even if we don’t think we can sing. It is the power to give so children may learn and grow and fall in love with Jesus. And it is the power to follow our Lord wherever he leads.

Can we drink the cup Jesus offers? Can we be baptized with his baptism? Can we embrace his greatness?

It comes at a price, you know. We count the cost and are not sure we can pay up. That great preacher William Willimon tells a story about the baptism of a young Chinese man. Willimon took photographs after the baptism, remarking cheerfully to the young man that he could share those photos with his family. Later the college chaplain drew him aside and told him how embarrassing that had been. Willimon was puzzled until the chaplain told him once the young man became a Christian his family would disown him. His home government would cut off his scholarship for college in the United States. He would become wanted if he went home. An enemy. He had become one of those dangerous Christians. He was now a subversive because he was willing to drink from the cup of Jesus Christ. He was dangerous because his allegiance had changed. Our allegiance has changed.

You know as well as I do that what Jesus says is true. Those whom we recognize as our rulers of the world lord it over us, and the great ones are tyrants over us. And yet Jesus calls us together into his greatness with these words: “But it is not so among you; whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” If we want to truly be the right and left hands of Jesus, we too will become a ransom for many. This is the greatness of Jesus Christ. AMEN.

The Rev Nicolette Papanek

1. Willimon, William. Found in a series of writings and stories Willimon tells about practicing the Christian Faith. Unfortunately I have lost the original source.
2. Mark 10:43-45 (NRSV)