Six Sundays ago, our reading was the first passion prediction, and this Sunday’s reading follows the third and final one of the set. We also noted that this particular section of Mark is framed by two healing stories involving blindness, in 8:22-26 and following our reading for this Sunday, in 10:46-52, the healing of blind Bartimaeus. Prior to this framed section Mark has given frequent geographical notice of Jesus’ movements, as he crisscrosses Galilee and his synagogue ministry there, and begins to move outward into Gentile regions, Tyre, Sidon, the cities of the Decapolis.
Over the last six Sundays we have been in more indeterminant space. Clearly Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem—his announcements say this—but the geographical notices and specifics of his movement thin out. The focus is on the teaching of the twelve, and dealing with their blindness, exhibited in various ways. Mention is made of Judea at the start of chapter 10. Jerusalem Pharisees next make an appearance to test Jesus about divorce. The third passion prediction locates itself quite clearly in proximity to Jerusalem, and after our reading for today, Jericho is the location of the healing of Bartimaeus. Caesarea Philippi and Galilee, where the first two announcements took place, are now fully in the rear view mirror. The third prediction makes it clear. “They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem.” “We are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus says, “and the son of man will be delivered to chief priests, condemned, delivered to Gentiles, mocked, spit upon, scourged, killed and on the third day rise.” This is a much more specific and detailed account of what is in store, suitable, one might say, for the final and most proximate announcement. Jerusalem is just around the corner, just over the horizon. The Greek passives (delivered, handed over) are of course the same terms translated elsewhere ‘betrayed.’ Isaiah 53 has the same word in its Greek translation. The Lord handed him over as a sin offering.
Almost in reverse proportion to previous announcements, where the fate Jesus declared was to come was rebuked, or reacted to with silence, and the third day rising ignored, this time the detailed account of death, terrible in its stages, is apparently accepted by James and John, and instead their ear picks up the third-day rising as decisive. So taking Jesus aside they say, “Grant us to sit on your right and on your left in your glory.”
Our Old Testament reading is the final servant song, and its language has clearly found its way into Mark’s account for today. The servant is handed over—delivered—and he is mocked and scourged, and killed. He gives his life as a ransom—God makes his life an offering for sin (Isa 53). His final destiny is however vindication and some form of new life – “he shall see his offspring”—the servants of the servant, in Isaiah’s depiction, and “shall prolong his days. Out of his anguish he shall see light. The righteous one my servant shall make many righteous. He has born the sin of many, he has borne their iniquities.”
This is the cup that Jesus says to James and John is his to drink. It is the baptism with which he is to be baptized. Mark doubtless has this scenario in view, and Jesus in his understanding does as well quite explicitly. Less clear is why James and John ask that Jesus do whatever they ask, a blank-check as it were, at just this moment. Jesus does not comply with this lofty request but, in his usual way, presses the question back to them. Just what do you have in mind? Are we to imagine that after three announcements texts like Isaiah 53 or Daniel 7 have begun to shape how they are hearing these announcements in the final analysis, and so embolden two of them to take Jesus aside and ask for something like the righteous fate of those God gives a share: the righteous one my servant shall make many righteous? He shall divide the spoil with the strong. Or Daniel 7, “one like a son of man was presented before the Ancient of Days, to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom.”
What Jesus says indicates that whatever scenario may be in their minds, their grasp of it is partial at best. The path that ends in glory is not a hero’s trailblazing so as to hand out prizes to two who got first in line and asked before the others. Those who follow Jesus will drink the same cup as he does, and the ten others will be neither higher or lower in whatever way one might imagine that in human terms. Whatever servant following is to look like, ruled out is gentile ranking concerns and God’s final disposing known alone to him. That is getting way ahead of the game and is not the path Jesus or they will find their life on. It is not so among you. For the son of man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom – so Isaiah’s servant’s path as well. The ‘we’ confessions of those who witness the servant’s fate and offering are the proper responses of the servants who would follow.
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have all turned to our own way,
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
The symphony of scriptures gives both an account of Jesus’s fate, guiding him and assisting Mark as he frames his account, as well as providing the lines Jesus is seeking to raise up amongst his closest twelve followers, whom he never abandons, in spite of blindness and constant need for teaching and correction. So it is with us as well, must surely be Mark’s pedagogy.
Psalm 91 comes alongside, then, to script out what all this looks like from God’s side.
14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.
15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honor.
16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.
The glory that will be Jesus’ final place in God’s disposing will go through the stages set forth by him in the final passion prediction. Because he is bound to me in love, therefore I will deliver him.
Our Epistle reading from Hebrews allows the lectionary a measure of selection, and so the portion from chapter 5 is able to join up nicely and fill out the OT and Gospel reading for today.
The great high Priest is a Jesus who is a Son. In his suffering and life with us, he learned obedience and in so doing became perfect, in a way no one can rank in human terms. In this way he has become the source of eternal life for those who in turn obey him. And his high priesthood is one of constant knowledge of the weaknesses of humanity, weaknesses he deigned to face into with the twelve, as we have seen, and so he is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward.
And we have finally in our Track One selections from Job one of the four key episodes the lectionary has chosen to provide, to summarize the extraordinary story that our hero inhabits in his 42 chapter walk with God.
In as strong terms as is possible, the friends and then Elihu the wise, counseled, warned, refused to accept as credible, warranted, or right Job’s demand to be heard by God. Instead they focused on his supposed moral errors or bad theology and demanded he do the same.
Job gets from God what he demanded. God. Not an idea about God, or theological explanations, or theories of sin and judgment, or why the innocent suffer, and no offers of condolence or excuse. Job wanted God and God comes to him as God is, from his side and from the realms of his power that only belong to him. Animals are displayed that have nothing to do with human affairs, but do their thing out of human sight, yet as God sees them, knows them, enjoys them. His bold questions to Job require from him an honorable girding of loins, as he is treated as one God is prepared to be God before, this man who has born the burden of days like no man before.
The text is not chosen to sit beside Mark 10 in any conscious sense. It belongs to an absurdly brief four Sunday glimpse at a tale of suffering and a cortex of battle without parallel. Have you seen any one like Job, God boasts. He invests himself fully in this man, whose defeat of Satan involves his free choice to stay on the field of battle for no reason other than God. When Jesus says, “it is not mine to grant,” or “it is for those for whom it has been prepared” or “no one is good but God alone” he bespeaks this same obedient stance, yet as one who has known it and given it up for us and for our sakes. To create a family in eternal life alongside him, just as we wait in his time for Job to receive the glory God will in the end grant him. Along a path that will ask him freely to pray for the friends, even while still on the ash-heap. Our hero defeating Satan by his willed act of love and compassion.