‘We are able’ (Mark 10:39)
The account of the two disciples who want to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand is well known. When the other 10 hear of it, they are indignant, as one would expect — probably not for their effrontery but because they hadn’t thought of asking first. Otherwise, perhaps, Jesus would not have provided the teaching that follows to all 12 of them. It is curious that Jesus ‘ rebuke is rather mild. He teaches about the true nature of godly service, and it is similar to that we read four weeks ago in Proper 20. But there is an element to Jesus’ teaching in this account that is often overlooked. When he asks James and John whether they are able to “drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized,” without any hesitation they answer, “We are able.”
Jesus assures James and John that they will indeed do so, without explaining what that will mean. It became clear later that it was a prediction of their own future suffering for the gospel’s sake. James is the first among the disciples to suffer martyrdom. His brother John is, according to tradition, the only one who will not be martyred, but in his very long life he suffers persecution and experiences radical transformation. As is evident in the gospel that bears his name, he was changed from a “son of thunder” who asked Jesus if he should bring fire down from heaven upon an inhospitable Samaritan village into quite likely the finest and most amazing theologian of all time.
The lesson from Isaiah describes woundedness, afflictions, and stripes suffered by one who is innocent, by which the guilty are healed. The psalm mentions stumbling stones, lions, adders, and other trouble, in the midst of which one is protected and delivered by God because “he had made the Lord God his refuge.” This theme of suffering by the innocent who is nonetheless delivered describes one facet of the “cup” that Jesus would drink.
The lesson from the Letter to the Hebrews (i.e., Christian Jews) depicts Jesus as a high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses, thereby giving us confidence to approach God in spite of our frailty. The disciples sought greatness from one who came down in humility, and they were right. Only their method and intentions were wrong. They learned later to find greatness by following the way that Jesus had blazed — a way of suffering for others to bring about the fruits of the gospel life.
Look It Up
In the middle of the lesson from Isaiah, it says that it was the will of the Lord to bruise his servant. What does that same passage promise to that servant who is bruised?
Think About It
Why does it feel good to help someone, even a stranger, at a cost to oneself?