32 They were on the road (on the way!), going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
35 James 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.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But 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?” 39 They 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; 40 but 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.”
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So 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. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
The journey has progressed over the last few chapters and now Jesus reveals the destination - Jerusalem. Jesus final conflict with the authorities and rulers - the powers of the world - will take place in Jerusalem.
Again, Jesus is quite forward about what will happen. And we wonder if the disciples get it, based on their on going conversations.
The Request of Brothers Zebedee
James and John approach Jesus with a request to sit on this right and his left. They want seats of power in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ response points to the idea that they have not fully grasped the radical nature of the kingdom of God and how the powers of the world will react. Jesus just told them, for a third time, that the powers of the world will kill him as a result of his ministry. James, John, and the other disciples who get angry do not fully understand this statement.
Jesus responds by asking - “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The first statement could point forward to the cup Jesus raises at the table in the upper room (14:23) and the cup he references in the garden (14:36). The second statement could point backwards to his baptism and testing in the wilderness.
James and John respond that they are indeed able to take on the cup and baptism. The metaphor to remember here is that both of these moments point to Jesus’ conflict with the powers and the suffering that follows. After being baptized Jesus suffered the testing in the wilderness, and the many testing by the religious leaders. At the table and in the garden Jesus is beginning to experience the suffering of his trial and death. Ched Myers states - “The cup and baptism Jesus can ‘grant’ - the disciples in time will indeed suffer before the powers (see 13:9ff) (Myers, 278).”
The irony about sitting at the right and left of Jesus will unfold at the moment of crucifixion when two criminals take their place at the right and left of Jesus.
All of these statements point to the nonviolent, direct action foundation of Jesus’ ministry. He confronts the fallen systems of political domination, economic abuse, patriarchy, and family systems in a nonviolent method. He confronts these systems with the alternative social reality of the kingdom of God. In the discipleship catechism he has been shaping the disciples as leaders for this reality. We, having experienced the narrative, have been uniquely shaped as well. This rhythm is about servant leadership, not about dominating others.
“In any case, Jesus here does repudiate the vocation of leadership, but rather insists that it is not transferred executively. Leadership belongs only to those who learn and follow the way of nonviolence - who are ‘prepared’ not to dominate but to serve and to suffer at Jesus’ side (Myers, 278).”
Jesus elaborates this idea in his reflection on how the rulers of the Gentiles lead.
“We can capture the tone of Jesus’ criticism of ‘politics as usual’ in this free rendering:
You know how it is:
- the ‘so-called’ rulers of the nations dominate them,
- the ‘great ones’ tyrannize them;
- but this is not so among you! (Myers, 278).”
The new social reality called the kingdom of God will not function using the patterns of the rulers of the world. He is adamant about this in his teaching.
Jesus as “Ransom for Many”
The idea of Jesus as a ransom has been subjected to many theories of atonement. Mark does not go into detail to support these claims. The idea of ransom, the Greek word lutron, has a particular meaning. “The term referred to the price required to redeem captives or purchase freedom for indentured servants. Jesus promises then that the way of ‘servanthood’ has been transformed by the human one into the way of liberation (Myers, 279).”
Connected to this idea of ransom is the liberation narrative of the Exodus from the Old Testament. The Exodus narrative was the great redeeming story of the people of Israel. Mark is connecting the ministry of Jesus to that redeeming moment. Jesus has come to set the world free from the domination of the powers and sets this liberation in motion through the new social reality of the kingdom of God. The nonviolent way of Jesus and his death on the cross unmasks the fallen systems of power and exposes their false promises of life. The way of servant leadership continues this momentum. It is into this rhythm of life that we have been called as disciples.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- How do we take on the “baptism” and “cup” of Jesus?
- How do we suffer for the sake of the Gospel?
- How do we continue to shape ourselves as servant leaders?