Sermon on the Gospel of Mark for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (Mark 10:32-45)

Jesus Foretells to His Disciples on the Way What is Destined to Happen to Him in the Near Future. – The Request of the Two Disciples, and the Reply of Jesus. – Primacy and Pre-eminence in the Christian Community and Society.

Jesus was in a hurry to have His passion over with for the salvation of those who believed in Him and of those who in the future were destined to believe in Him, in order that He might set us a trophy of victory over the moral enemy of man’s salvation through and by virtue of His own death, and thus redeem man from Satan’s spiritual and moral captivity. But those who hated Jesus were conspiring against Him and deliberating evil things with a view to compassing His death, in order that they might sate their en­vious and malignant passion of rancor against Him! Both parties were on the way to the cross: but Jesus was going to it in order thereby to save man, for whose sake He had come into the world; the scribes and the Pharisees, on the other hand, were going to it in order that, by slaying Him, they might save the sway of their hypocrisy, which was already tottering and in danger of being displaced by the virtue of Jesus and through the acceptance of His saving words on the part of the majority of men.

Jesus, however, was surrendering Himself to death voluntarily, whereas, by way of contrast, the scribes and Pharisees and chief priests putting Him to death were compelled to slay Him by their envy and viciousness, which lurked in their soul and held them captives while impelling them to the per­petration of the most heinous of offences. Jesus as God knew in advance what was destined to befall Him, and told it to His disciples, in order to re­assure and strengthen them so as to prevent them from becoming dejected and dispirited as a result of seeing Him suffering like the worst of criminals, but also in order to give them to understand that it was fitting and necessary that He should suffer all that He did for the salvation of men, and thus to stabilize them in their faith.

“And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, saying, Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: and they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him; and on the third day he shall rise again.” – Mark 10:32-34

From Galilee together with His disciples Jesus was going’ up to Jerusa­lem, and on the way He announced to them beforehand the things which were destined to happen to Him a few days later in Jerusalem. “Behold,” He said, “we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man is to be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, who will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Roman soldiers, who, after mocking Him and scourging Him, will put Him to death, but He will rise again on the third day as Almighty God. So be ye not dejected when ye see these things happening to Me, but draw courage from Me to believe that these things had to occur which I am to suffer for your salvation and for the salvation of the world at large, because My death shall be life to you and to all those who believe in Me, for I shall rise again in glory from the dead on the third day.”

The Lord had often heretofore told His disciples about the things He would have to suffer in the future, about His death and about His resurrec­tion, but they had failed to grasp the significance of His words, taking them to be allegorical, and being at a loss to understand them literally so as to be convinced that Jesus would actually die so ingloriously upon a cross. They were under the impression that Jesus would become king in Jerusalem and would triumph over the Roman legions, and would thus liberate the nation from its subordinacy to the emperor of Rome, Caesar. Such, in fact, was the general impression rife among the Jews as concerning Jesus. Accordingly, Christ was awaited as a liberator to engage in wars and battles, and to prove a victorious general by defeating the Romans, and to become a mighty sov­ereign and ruler of the Jewish nation, and that eventually He would extend the power and authority of the Jews over all the nations of the earth. Being obsessed with such preconceptions concerning Christ, the disciples were un­able to fathom the meaning of the words of Jesus, with the result that they construed them in accordance with their own prepossessions. On this account-

“]ames and John, the sons or Zebedee, came to him, saying, Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? They said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and the other on thy left hand, in thy glory.” – Mark 10:35-37

The Evangelist Matthew (20:20-2) says that the sons of Zebedee came to Him together with their mother, who herself was the one asking that her two sons be granted the right to sit beside Him in His glory, one on His right hand and the other on His left hand, with their approval of and par­ticipation in the request. These two disciples took time by the forelock with a view to prearranging their future good fortune and happy fate by securing beforehand the rights of primacy for which they were asking, and their mother joined them in begging for these favors, in quest of which they ap­proached Jesus without letting the other disciples know about it. “Grant unto us,” they asked, “O Lord, that we may sit with Thee, one on Thy right hand and one on Thy left hand, in Thy glory.” This request confirms the statement that the disciples mistook the Lord’s words concerning His passion and His death and attributed a different meaning to them on the supposition that the time of His glory and of His kingly reign in Jerusalem was nigh at hand, and that, behold, they might even now be walking along with Him and about to see Him become king. But Jesus replied to their request in the following fashion:

“But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye are asking for: can ye drink of the cup that I drink of? and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” – Mark 10:38

True indeed, they did not even know what they were asking for! They were after the chief seats and places of honor, when, as a matter of fact, the situation actually involved murderous delivery to the chief priests and con­demnation to death, and delivery of their Teacher to Roman soldiers, and His subjection to being mocked and scourged and spat upon and crucified.

They were ignorant of the cup of death which Jesus was destined to drink in Jerusalem, and of the baptism in His blood with which He was destined to be baptized by being crucified in Golgotha (called by Roman Catholics “Calvary”). It was for this reason that He asked them whether they were able to drink the cup which He was going to drink, and to be baptized with the baptism with which He was going to be baptized. Though they failed to understand what was meant and did not realize the nature of the cup and of the baptism referred to by Christ, they readily replied in the affirmative.

And they said unto him, We can. And Jesus said unto them, Ye shall in­deed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism with which I am baptized ye shall indeed be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give; but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.” – Mark 10:39-40

“Yes,” they promptly replied, “we can drink Thy cup and can be bap­tized with Thy baptism.” Thus they expected to gain the privilege of stand­ing beside the Lord and taking their seat at His right hand and at His left hand. “Truly indeed,” Jesus replied to them, “ye shall drink My cup and ye shall be baptized with My baptism, but only when the time comes. The privilege, however, of sitting on My right hand and on My left hand, as ye request, is something which does not come under My jurisdiction and which, therefore, I cannot concede to you, because it is prepared and re­served by God for others who are to be crucified together with Me, one on My right side and the other on My left side, in order that in this manner I may be still more dishonored and defamed by My crucifiers as being cruci­fied like a criminal between two robbers and felons. It is not granted unto you, My dear disciples, to be crucified together with Me, one on My right and the other on My left hand, nor is it so prophesied. So a few days hence I alone shall drink the bitter cup of death and shall be baptized in My blood by being crucified between two robbers.

”Thereafter, however, ye too shall be persecuted, and ye shall be dishon­ored for My name, and ye shall be put to death and thus be compelled to drink the cup of death by undergoing martyrdom in your blood as witnesses to the truth of the Gospel, but after suffering these things and a martyr’s death for the sake of the Gospel, ye shall be glorified, and shall be honored by being raised up again from the dead and by continuing to live in God. The Cross shall precede, and glory and life shall follow. Sufferings on earth for the sake of virtue and in behalf of the truth shall precede, and there­upon shall follow exaltation, honor, and grandeur. Sorrows, afflictions, and tribulations shall precede, accompanied by aches and pangs, and thereupon shall follow cheerfulness, joyfulness, and rejoicing. Such is the way to glory, to life, to honor, to immortality. Believe ye in Me, who have been the first to suffer, and who died for the truth; and, accordingly, follow ye Me with confidence and patience in all things. As I have risen from the dead, and have been glorified, and have been seated at the right hand of God, so and in like manner shall ye too be raised up and restored to life through Me, and ye shall sit on My right hand in the kingdom of God, and ye shall act as judges of the tribes of Israel while sitting by My side on thrones of judi­cative authority. If in the present life it is not prepared for you from above to be crucified together with Me, one on My right hand and the other on My left hand in Golgotha, it is nevertheless given to you and to all My dis­ciples and followers who believe in Me and who walk in My footsteps, to reign as kings together with Me in the kingdom of God, and to share with Me the occupation of thrones in My kingdom. So contend ye in the struggle by following Me, emulating Me, having due regard to Me, suffer­ing as I do in behalf of duty, for the sake of the love of God and of the sal­vation of your fellow men, and dying unmurmuringly and in patient expectation and hope of resurrection, immortality, and everlasting glory.”

“And when the ten heard about it, they began to be indignant with James and John. But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you: whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister; and whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be a servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister unto others, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:41-45

Upon hearing that the two had requested chief seats of Jesus without letting the others know about it, the other ten disciples became indignant with them on this ground. But Jesus called all twelve of them to Him and explained to them the nature of Christian primacy as contrasted with mun­dane primacies, and urged and advised them that if they wanted grandeurs in His kingdom they should humble themselves here and become ministers to others. Accordingly, if they wished to enjoy first places and high positions in His kingdom, they should have to become servants of others after the likeness of Christ, who, though a God, became a man, not in order to be ministered to, but, on the contrary, in order to minister to others, and to give His life to death for the salvation of many. ”The primacy and grandeur that belong to you,” said Jesus, “is not a despotic and tyrannical exercise of author­ity over others, as is the case with the primacies and grandeurs claimed by rulers of the world, nor is it a matter to be fought about among you who is to rule and who is to have authority, but, on the contrary, who is to be ruled and who is to act as servant of others.”

Those who lay claim to rights of primacy and of supremacy over others in order that they themselves may wallow in luxury and enjoy honor, glory, and worldly goods, by oppressing and exploiting their vassals, are not among those who belong to us – they are not ours; they do not possess our spirit, but that of the world. With us and in our kind of life primacy and rule consist in being of service to others: those who rule in Christian society are serv­ants and ministers of those ruled, sacrificing themselves for the sake of these latter. Since grandeur and primacy with us is such, it is therefore by no means anything that is to be fought for and sought after. The most servile are the .ones who are elevated thereto – those who risk the most for the sake of good, and those who thirst for the salvation and benefit of others. With us the bishop, the pastor, the officer in charge of others is the one who possesses a maximum degree of faith and of love, and who distinguishes himself in acts of self-sacrifice and of self-denial. Ruling authority in the Christian society is not a comfortable environment, a position of repose, a career of good living, the enjoyment of material advantages and of material goods, ostentatious display of vainglory, and of egoistic presumptuousness amount­ing to self-conceit, a bizarre parade of lordly powers, and a mania for having one’s hands kissed and for being bowed to grovelingly: on the contrary, it is a crown of thorns, a cup of afflictions, and a baptism of blood. Whoever fights and struggles here with self-sacrifice in behalf of others is the one who is elevated to a position in the kingdom of God which distinguishes him as a chief, and great, and glorious personage.

In reality our primacy and grandeur on earth consists in obeying the will of God, in emulating Jesus, in serving and ministering to our brethren, for even the God-man came upon the earth not for the purpose of being served and having others sacrificed for His sake, but, on the contrary, in order to serve and to sacrifice His precious life for the sake of the salvation of others. ‘Whosoever,” said He, “shall do and teach them (scil. the commandments), the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). Grandeur and primacy consist in the doing of the commandments of God, and in teaching the Divine Word for the purpose of enlightening the igno­rant and those who are walking in darkness. From the foregoing discussion we can deduce the following truths:

l) That the cross precedes glory, primacies, grandeurs, and the like; sorrows and affiictions precede joy and gladness; sufferings precede delight­ful enjoyments; and, finally, death precedes life.

2) That we must take care to distinguish the primacies and grandeurs of the world from the primacies and grandeurs of Christ, sacrificing our­selves in order to save others, and not sacrificing others in order to save our­selves, and in all things emulating Jesus, who died for the sake of the world’s life, and was made by God on this account ruler and Lord in heaven and on earth, just as He Himself said after His resurrection: “All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:18).

3) That we must seek and pursue our primacy and grandeur by hum­bling ourselves and ministering to others; and to pursue the true primacy and grandeur for the benefit of others, and not for the sake of self-interest and vanity.

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