RCL Year B, Proper 24 (Alternate Readings)
Isaiah 53:4-12, Psalm 91:9-16, Hebrews 5:1-10, Saint Mark 10:35-45

There the disciples go again. It was just a month ago, by the calendar, and it was just a chapter ago, by the Gospel, that the disciples were doing just about what they are doing in today’s Gospel.

Then, they were arguing with one another about who is the greatest among them. I said in the homily that day that “they are dividing the glory and honor among them, just as the soldiers divide Jesus’ garments at the foot of the cross.”

Today, they are up to about the same thing, except it is worse. They are grasping for a little more today than they were then. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, want Jesus, in his glory, to put one of them at his right hand and the other of them at his left hand. This would mean putting Peter and Andrew further down the line. This does mean that there is a rivalry between the two pairs of brothers among the disciples.

Jesus has to teach today the same lesson that he taught a month ago, a chapter ago, depending on the reckoning you use. Then Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”[1] Today, he goes much further: “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 a ransom for many.”[2]

The baptism James and John say they can undergo is Jesus’ death and resurrection for the salvation of the human race. The request of James and John to share in that glory necessarily will require them to share in those sufferings of Jesus’ death. Whatever authority the disciples may be given must, like that of Jesus, be rendered as service to others rather than for personal aggrandizement. James and John are asking to be part of Jesus’ passion and death for the sins of the human race.

That is a tall order. It is more than James and John are aware of asking. They are asking not only to taste their death but to taste the death of others as well. For that is what Jesus offers in his service. They have bitten off more than they can chew.

About all they can manage is to let Jesus do for them what they cannot do for themselves. If they cannot pay the price for their own sins, how can they possibly pay the price for the sins of others? Their eye exceeds their grasp.

And so it is with many of us. We have grand notions about how valuable we are, about all that we can do, while the only thing before us, the only thing we really have to do, is to let Jesus do for us what we cannot manage to do for ourselves. But if we call upon him, if we ask him to be our Savior, we have exercised to the full our agency as creatures. Did we not together say, “Because you have made the Lord your refuge, * and the Most High your habitation, / There shall no evil happen to you,  neither shall any plague come near your dwelling.”[3]

[1] Saint Mark 9:35.

[2] Saint Mark 10:44-45.

[3] Psalm 91:9-10.