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 baptised with?’ (Mark 10: 38) Photograph: Patrick Comerford (An icon of Christ in an antique shop in Thessaloniki, on the cover of this morning’s service sheet)
18 April 2013,
8 a.m., the Eucharist
Ephesians 2: 11-22; Psalm 119: 33-38; Mark 10: 35-45.
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Each morning, at our shared Eucharists, you have allowed me to reflect on the readings, which include the Bible passage we are going to look later in the morning.
Later this morning, Bishop John [Armes of Edinburgh] is leading our Bible study on our Epistle reading (Ephesians 2: 11-22). Our Gospel reading is also one that speaks to me about ministry and mission, servanthood and diakonia.
In that Gospel reading, I can identify with James and John, the sons of Zebedee.
Unlike some other Gospel accounts, Saint Mark dismisses the idea that these Sons of Thunder needed their mother’s help to ask for a special place for them. According to Saint Mark, these two go straight to Jesus themselves. They have a special request, a special demand, a special favour to ask for.
They want one to sit at his right hand, and the other at his left.
I remember playing street football and beach cricket, when as boys we all wanted to be picked first. Imagine a group of children lining up to be picked for one of those games.
They’re hopping up and down, hoping to catch the captain’s eye. “Pick me, pick me.”
And then, when he’s picked, the first boy turns to the street captain, and starts pleading again, “Pick my brother, Pick Jimmy,” or “Pick Johnny.”
Sometimes these boys were rubbish at football. No good at all. They just wanted to be picked. They wanted the glory.
James and John are like that this morning. “Pick me, Jesus, pick Jimmy, pick Johnny.”
And it’s not that they have special skills that make them worth picking.
They don’t offer, I’m good at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, quenching thirsts, visiting the sick and the prisoner, welcoming the stranger, washing the feet, carrying the cross.
They just want to be there, and they want to be there in glory.
Well, it’s childish ambition. And truth to tell, we all love to bask in the glory of others. Look at the framed photographs we have at home with the famous and the powerful.
I sympathise with James and John. I know that I can be like them. Instead, I am worried, more disturbed, when I am asked to think, not whether I am like James and John, but whether I am like the other ten.
What they hear and see makes them angry. But they are reminded that in their anger and jealousy that they are like rulers and tyrants – when they should be like Christ, who describes himself here as one who serves – that word διακονέω (diakoneo) again, to serve, to be a servant, to be a deacon to many (verse 45).
Christ allows for no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ He has come not for us but for the πολύς (polis), the many, “to give his life a ransom for many” (verse 45). This is emphasised again at the meal … the cup is his blood poured out for many (Matthew 26: 28; Mark 14: 24).
This cup is for the many. Christ’s sacrifice is for the many. He humbles himself to become the servant – not to us but to the many.
But we so want to keep him to ourselves. Not just to the followers of the 12, but to our own group within the Twelve, whether we see ourselves as Jimmy and Johnny, or are jealous of the behaviour of those we see as Jimmy and Johnny. Forget it. It’s not about you and me. It’s about them, the many.
And constantly we have been reminded this week that diakonia is about bringing the world into the Church and putting the Church at the service of the world. The many, the so many many.
Yet so often in our ecumenical endeavours, instead of serving the many, we protect ourselves, and those nearest to us.
But let me return to our Epistle reading, without, I hope, stealing the thunder of Bishop John.
We are addressed here. We are reminded that without Christ we are aliens and strangers, without hope and without God.
Like the slaves in Egypt and the Prodigal Son, we were once were far off but have come home, we have found peace, we have been made one, the barriers have been broken down, we are a new humanity, one body. We are called not to be at peace, we are called not to be living in peace, but we are called to be making peace.
We are no longer strangers and aliens, but citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
The words used here for household, οἰκεῖος (oikeios), and for building, οἰκοδομή (oikodomí), are from the same root as the word that gives us ecumenism. Our ecumenism, our ecumenical endeavours, our seeking for common ground in mission and ministry, in sacrament and in service, seeks to draw us into one family, one household, where Christ Jesus himself is the cornerstone.
But a household at the service of the many. Saint Paul tells us we are being grown into a holy temple, into a dwelling-place for God. And when I think of that Temple, I think of the vision of the Temple in Revelation (Revelation 21: 22-26), when “people will bring into it the glory and honour of the nations.”
That is the glory we should be seeking, that is the honour that we should be seeking, and it is the task of the Church as servant, in its ministry, not to see that you and I sit at the right and left hand of glory, and that as servants we bring the needs of the world, the nations to the Church and bring the church to serve the needs of the many.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
This was the third of three reflections at the Morning Eucharists at the Porvoo Consultation on Diaconal Ministry in Dublin, 15-18 April 2013.