Lent 5.18 “Amazed and Afraid” Mark 10:32-45
“Now they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was going before them; and they were amazed. And as they followed they were afraid.”
Why?! Why amazed and why afraid? And could that be some kind of indicator of how following Jesus will always go? Or was it something unique to the 12 at that time? Great questions. You have a lot of great questions. Fortunately, I think the text answers those questions rather well if we just pay attention. It’s good to look back and see that immediately before our Gospel today, Jesus has just told them the first will be last and the last will be first. I’m thinking this cryptic saying is a significant part of their amazement and their fear. It’s amazing the first would be last because we usually think being the winner means well, that you win. And if that’s the way it goes with Jesus when you follow Him, that losers win and winners lose, then that’s a little scary for the Alpha types who yearn for the top spots, for the winners of the world, like Alabama, the Crimson Tide. Because who wants to be known for their losses? Besides Steely Dan’s Deacon Blues?
Well, Jesus, maybe? Which is concerning to the 12 and probably would be to all Christians if we thought deeply about this for a while. “I find your faith in loss disturbing, Commander”. Jesus takes them aside and tells them how this is going to go down, this little jaunt to Jerusalem. “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem (because Jerusalem is the highest elevation in that part of Palestine so it’s always uphill and they were walkers, Jesus and His crew:-) and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him to the Gentiles; and they will mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit on Him, and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again.” So, let’s go! What? Not crazy about the spitting?
I love it when Jesus talks of Himself in the third person. It sounds cool to me. I imagine the apostles are less pleased with this little talk. I would guess they’re thinking (if not actually saying) “Jesus! You say that like it’s a good thing!” Much shaking of the head and lagging behind follows. But James and John have a plan. It seems they take this as a declaration of defeat, that Jesus is giving up, that He’s tired and things haven’t been going well for quite some time now as the apostles would count “going well.” The happy crowds that thronged Jesus the first year or so of His ministry have thinned out considerably. He really thinned the herd when they caught up with Him in Galilee after feeding the 5,000 and a larger crowd, looking for more, hears Jesus tell them to eat His flesh and drink His blood if they want a real meal. That cut the crowd down to, oh, about… 12!
And the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees have gotten together with Herod’s henchmen and have ramped up their game. Public opinion has turned against Jesus considerably. He isn’t so popular anymore. And they get it that Marines run toward trouble, but why is Jesus running toward trouble(!?): to humiliation and defeat and death that He sees quite clearly? Even the 12 don’t argue that if He goes to Jerusalem right now, the betrayal, beating, crucifixion and dying is the most likely end game. They have no idea what “rising again” means…(!)
The thing I like about the 12 is that even when they are down in the dumps and don’t really get Jesus, they still hang with Him, mostly. They may be way behind Him, but they’re behind Him. There is something about Jesus they find irresistible. For all the bizarre talk and embrace of cross and death there is something divine about Him, like God Himself has come to earth in our flesh or something like that. And they can’t turn away. They follow; going where they are actually most reluctant and unwilling to go (and Jesus will say something about that to Peter in a few weeks which kind of answers our big question—whether being amazed and afraid as you follow Jesus is a one-off rarity or the normal state for any disciple, anytime. I’m afraid it’s normal state, sorry!).
So James and John find themselves in a conundrum. They can’t turn around and go home again. But they kind of hate where this road with Jesus is leading. He seems to be on His way out. So they ask to take over the franchise when He’s gone. Why not? Even though His Kingdom is confounding and downright weird sometimes, it’s still pretty cool and they no longer feel at home, really, anywhere else. So they say “Hey, Jesus since we’re talking, we have something we want You to do for us.” He says “OK. What do you want?” James and John (Boanerges, the Sons of Thunder as Jesus nicknamed them because of their fondness for the air strike, calling-down-fire-from-heaven-on-the-recalcitrant-types option when faced with difficulties) go: “Grant us that we may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on Your left, in Your glory.” Jesus immediately says they don’t know what they’re asking, and I’m not sure I totally understand their request either…
But I think they are expressing a rather touching (albeit, confused) faith that somehow this betrayal, mocking, scourging, spitting, crucifying, dying thing will work out for Jesus(!). The rising will happen, somehow. One fine Day, the Kingdom, Power, and Glory somehow will be His. And when that Day comes, James and John are asking, I think, to be CEO and COO of Jesus, Inc. I suspect in our world James and John would have been very successful hedge fund managers. Because they figure buying a distressed company no one wants in troubled times can set you up later, quite nicely. I like this about James and John…
Jesus says “Oh, wow, man, yes I dig you deep on this! But… heavy ask! Can you drink My cup, share My Baptism?” They say “We are able”. Jesus goes “OK, you will and I promise to give you every good thing you ask in My Name, but no-can-do on this one, compadres! Those spots aren’t what you think; and anyway, the Father has already assigned them. But, good talk!” Then the 10 are indignant, mostly I think because they didn’t think to buy low and sell high first, and Jesus calls them to huddle up for another little talk and says that anyone who wants to be first will automatically be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many…
Which shuts them up. So… following Jesus, the desire for greatness leads to lastness and service. But to serve and be last is to be most like Jesus—which is actually pretty great(!). So: what do you want? What should you ask of Jesus? I think Augustine got it about right with his prayer: “Lord; command what You will, and make me love what You command.” In Jesus we see divine glory comes only, always, from the magnificent defeat of His cross, His dying. Jesus’ Rising is simply the fruit the cross always bears. Rilke got it about right in his poem “The Man Watching” noting for Jacob, defeated by the Angel at the Jabbok, limping away, hip out of joint: “Victories are not inviting to him; his gain is to be profoundly vanquished by ever greater things.”
Ours too. There is no greater gain than the Son of God dying for us on a tree. To be vanquished by this, conquered by Him is Peace surpassing understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.