Fifth Sunday in Lent

5th Sunday in Lent (Series B)
March 18, 2018icon-download-pdf-wp

Gospel: Mark 10:32-45
Epistle: Heb 5:1-10
Lesson: Jer 31:31-34
Psalm: Psalm 119:9-16

CLB Commentary – Prof. Brad Pribbenow

If the Gospel of Mark were designed as an hourglass, one might say that this part of Mark’s Gospel represents the center funnel-section—it’s the place where much of the teaching of Jesus is at its most poignant and concentrated stage. We are now approaching the last Sunday before Palm Sunday. We’ve walked Jesus’ journey from the Mount of Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-13) toward his predicted betrayal, suffering and death in Jerusalem. Jerusalem—the holy city, the city of God, Mt. Zion—is to be the place where God’s most amazing act of justice and mercy is carried out.

After Jesus’ first announcement of his suffering and death in Jerusalem, Peter rebuked him (Mk 8:31-33). After his second announcement, Mark tells us they didn’t understand what he was saying. The disciples demonstrated this lack of understanding by getting involved in an argument about which one of them was the greatest (Mk 9:30-37). Now, after the third announcement, James and John approach Jesus with the request that he allow them to sit in places of authority in his glory.

It’s good for us to note here that Jesus does not condemn James and John for their request. But he does correct them—and, in doing so, spoke more correctly than they were able to understand at that time. For they would drink the cup of suffering that Jesus would drink (i.e., John suffered tribulation as one who was exiled to the island of Patmos “because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus”, Rev 1:9) and receive the baptism with which Jesus was baptized (James was martyred by king Herod, Acts 12:1- 2).

We might shake our heads incredulously at the remarkable hard-heartedness, selfishness, and fleshly thinking of James and John. And, perhaps we should. But, really, has anything changed in the church? Is anything different for us today? For Jesus’ statement, which comes across as a fact more than a demand, is still abrasive for us: the world exercises power and leadership by dominance; but “it is not this way among you” (i.e., in the Church, vs. 43).

  • The world’s way is to gain more acclamation and prominence; Jesus’ way was to humble himself
  • The world’s way is to take charge of their destiny; Jesus’ way was to lose control of his life, even to the point of surrendering life to others
  • The world seeks to grasp for themselves the places of honor before they’re taken by others; Jesus defers, and allows others (even those “less deserving” than he) to be lifted up while he receives no accolades

These attributes of the “way of the Kingdom of God” are given further clarity in the other readings for this Sunday. In Heb 5:1-10, we read of how Jesus did not exalt himself but was appointed by God. In Psa 119:9-16, the psalmist expresses delight in God’s word and God’s way; he asks God to help him understand this teaching and this way of thinking and living. And in Jer 31:31-34, we read of how this upside-down way of thinking (or maybe it’s actually right-side up and we’re the ones who are upside- down!) comes to us—it comes from the outside as God places his law (understand: this is the word torah, meaning teaching or instruction, not just “laws” as we typically understand them) in us, writing this new way “on our hearts”.

This text provides a natural opportunity to address a fundamental characteristic of the Gospel and of discipleship which continues to be misunderstood today. This is a topic that needs to be addressed again and again. As is illustrated in the text that follows this pericope (Mark 10:46-52), we are like blind people who cannot see. May Jesus come to us through this text; may he enlighten our understanding; may he serve us, his Church, again as wander from his way; may his forgiveness be sought and received; and may he lead us in humble service to God and to the world. For the sake of Jesus and the Gospel.

Palm Sunday
Fourth Sunday in Lent