Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Musings on Mark 10:35-45, Muhammed Ali, and the things we hold to ransom

This Sunday's gospel passage is from Mark 10:35-45... 

35James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

For no apparent reason, as I've been reading this passage, at the back of my head I can hear the echoes of Muhammed Ali's boxing war-cry 'I am the greatest!'

And both the text and Muhammed Ali make me want to ask:
What is greatness?  What is power?  How do we use our greatness and our power?

I'm particularly fascinated by Jim and John Zebedee's request: 'we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.'  There's an underlying sub-text here of a sense of entitlement, perhaps, in the statement they make.  And more 'echoes' in my head - this time not so much Muhammed Ali - but the voices who want power or privilege or some kind of entitlement in the wider community, and in the church community.  In a small, dark corner of my mind I hear the words:
'so minister, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.'  This may be found in situations of proposed change... or even proposed non-change... in the form of 'if you change the way we have communion, if you don't let the choir sing an anthem, if you have all-age services, if you don't have all-age services, if you get rid of the pews, if you keep the pews... we will stop being an elder/ leave the church/ withhold our offering/ hold the church community to ransom so that we do get our way.'  And effectively continuing to hold the One who gave his life as a ransom for many ... still to ransom.

Wherever groups of people are, there will be jockeying for position and a bit of an attempt at empire building: it's what we do as humans.  Created in the image of God, maybe we sometimes set ourselves up as gods because deep down we feel small and powerless and it frightens us?  Conversely, maybe we are fearful of just how powerful a thing it is to be made in the image of God - what are the implications of that, we wonder? 

So, perhaps it's a little precious to be looking askance and James and John and their attempt to do what most humans do - manouevring for position.  Were James and John really interested in the broader, communal picture, or was this an exercise in self-interest?  No.  Yes.  'What will we get out of this?  How can we get more?  How can we manipulate the situation to our further advantage?' Perhaps we beat them up a tad too much... and maybe we even beat ourselves up too much because we forget our humanness, forget that we are not God?

If we think of the power context my sense is that consumerism, with its cult of the individual, and the sense of 'get more toys', if I want it I should have it' - irrespective of the cost to self and others, has insidiously crept into the church.  The notion of body, of community, gets chipped away under the church-hopping about from one place to another - leaving a church because, 'after all I went there, but I got nothing out of it.'  Everytime I hear that phrase, I'm so tempted to say: 'okay, but what did you put into it?'  I suspect if I did say it, I'd be looked at as if I came from Mars... but that's another story for another time.

If I step away from a small soapbox at this point and think on the text a little more, perhaps the concluding thoughts run a little like this:
we all have some kind of power - some more than others.
How do we use it?
Where or on whom do we focus it - God, others, ourself?
What is, and what  does, power look like in the kindom of God within the godly community?
Real power is understanding that you can let it go...
when you don't need it...
when you know it is not your master but is rather a tool.
Real power is found in the context of kenosis - a self-giving - a giving away... demonstrated in the all-powerful God becoming all-vulnerable: human as we are human.
Are we ready to drink the cup of our humanity... and conversely are we ready to drink the cup of real greatness?  Less the 'X-Factor', more the fear factor in doing so I suspect.

And other echo... Marianne Williamson on power: 
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.' We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others." (A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of "A Course in Miracles", Harper Collins, 1992. From Chapter 7, Section 3]) 

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