To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:
We read a few weeks ago from the 8th chapter of Mark’s gospel that Jesus, outside of Caesarea Philippi, asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” In answer, Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” Then Jesus began to teach them that he had to suffer many things. He would be rejected by the Jewish rulers, the chief priests and the scribes, he would be killed and he would rise after three days. Then Peter, taking him aside, rebuked him for talking about rejection and suffering. Jesus answered, calling Peter, Satan. The Messiah has to suffer.
From Caesarea Philippi, Mark’s gospel goes on, Jesus and his followers began their journey to Jerusalem. On their way Jesus makes that same prediction that he’ll suffer and be put to death and rise again. But his followers and those whom he meets on the way are still troubled by his words about suffering. They don’t understand it. They’re heading for Jerusalem, the city of Jewish dreams, God’s own city, where God’s glory will be revealed.
They believe Jesus is their ticket to glory, to success.
In our reading for today from the 10th chapter of Mark, James and John, two disciples who, with Peter, were the first he called by the Lake of Galilee, approach Jesus looking for a place at his side when he comes into his glory. They were his first followers, after all. And they’re not just looking for a small favor either; they’re looking for a big place of honor and power. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” Glory. They’re only days away from it, they think, and they’re sure they deserve more than the rest.
Jesus response to them is also his response to us, so we should listen carefully to it. “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” What’s the cup that Jesus must drink from? It’s the cup he asked be taken away in the Garden of Gethsemani, The cup of suffering and death. Can you “be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, he accepted the mission he was given by the Father and the guidance of the Spirit. He accepted the life, the time, the circumstances that would come to him from God’s will. He accepted a life of service to others and forgetfulness of himself. I “did not come to be served, but to serve and give my life as a ransom for others.”
It was hard for his followers to understand and embrace that teaching, our gospel reading indicates. It took them time. It takes time for us too. We listened last week to the story of the rich young man who met Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. “What shall I do?” he asks Jesus. When he’s challenged to do more, he goes away sad. He wants only to hold on to what he has, his riches, a small piece of the glory that he thinks will last forever..
One of the great temptations we all face is look at the gospel as a gospel of success. The success we think we have now, or the success we would like to have right away. That’s not the real gospel, of course. When James and John approached Jesus, they wanted to use him to get ahead. They want to enjoy glory now, without experiencing his cross. They think that once at his side there will be no rejections, no failures, no hard times, no loneliness, no disappointments, no suffering, no cross. Only glory. They see religion as a highway to success, a winning lottery ticket that you just turn in and then pick up the winnings.
That’s not what Jesus teaches. Following him always means taking up the cross, and the cross is never far from us. Sometimes big, sometimes just a splinter, hardly felt, but the cross is always there. Yet, when the cross is there, Jesus is there, and there he begins to show us his glory.