It is strange how accustomed we have become to upward mobility.
A colleague at work uses your material to get a promotion. On the one hand, you are angry at her for not giving you credit for your work but, on the other hand, you understand. It got her the promotion.
A father who coaches your son’s little league team, serves as an elder at your church, and is thoroughly invested in the community suddenly packs up his family and leaves. He got a better job in a different city. While you are saddened by the loss to the church, you understand. After all, it was a step up.
A husband and wife have lived apart now for five years. They have good jobs, but their careers cause them to live in different states. Publicly, they joke about the arrangement but, privately, they recognize the strain on their marriage. In the end, however, they say it is necessary to advance their careers. And you understand. Dream jobs are hard to come by these days.
In this one small way, our world is not much different than what we see depicted in our gospel reading. James and John come before Jesus and request positions of honor in His coming Kingdom. While we may be surprised at their actions, we understand their desires. They are interested in upward mobility.
They had been successful fishermen, part of a family business, but now they have the opportunity to be something more. Had Jesus not called them to follow Him? Why not follow Him to the top? Had Jesus not named them the “sons of thunder” (3:17)? Why not show Him their potential? So, with the Kingdom drawing near, they seek positions of honor.
The other disciples, upon hearing this, are “indignant.” I would assume this is not because they thought what James and John did was wrong but because they did not think of it first. Upward mobility changes the way you think. It shapes the way you act. While we piously distance ourselves from the behavior of James and John, none of this is surprising.
Which is why it is important to keep our eyes focused on Jesus. What He does here is strange.
This is the third time in Mark when Jesus predicts His passion and resurrection. Each time He mentions it, His disciples misunderstand. Peter rebukes Him (8:32), His disciples argue about who is the greatest (9:34), and now James and John seek positions of honor. The world Jesus has entered is filled with visions of upward mobility, but He has come to change the world. Jesus brings a different way of living. He brings a kingdom that works by grace. He introduces us to what we might call downward mobility.
Jesus brings a different way of living. He brings a kingdom that works by grace. He introduces us to what we might call downward mobility.
Jesus will be delivered into the hands of sinners, crucified, and then rise from the dead. To those who live by upward mobility, this could be seen as a series of unfortunate events. But Jesus wants His disciples to know this is not just an accident. So, this time, when He makes His passion prediction (again) and His disciples misunderstand (again), Jesus goes further. He tells His disciples that this is the reason He has come. It is not by accident that He falls into the hands of sinners. It is not simply an unfortunate mistake that He is mocked and beaten and crucified. No, this is His mission. He has, “...come not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” (10:45).
Jesus has set His eyes on a downward mobility which takes Him to the very bottom, the depths of Hell itself. He will drink the cup of His Father’s wrath against sin. He will be baptized with the waters of judgment. He will walk through the halls of death. He does this for one reason: That He might gather all who have sinned, all who have suffered, all who have been separated from the love of God and rise from the dead so He might bring them back to His Father and give them life in His Kingdom. Jesus has come to be a suffering servant, to die for the sinful, and gather the lost. His downward mobility reveals the love of God.
This mystery changes how we live in the world around us. Our standards have changed. Christ calls us to follow Him in the strange ways of downward mobility. Consider the apostles. So many of God’s followers died for the faith. They did not rise in power in the glory of Rome but died in suffering in the glory of their Lord.
Our death might not be as dramatic as that of the apostles. It may not happen all at once. Sometimes it is more subtle, slower, a little dying each day as we shed the dreams of upward mobility and live in the wonder of God’s work done down below.
Kris has the opportunity for a promotion. It is a great job with excellent benefits, but it means moving away from her aging mother. Rather than leave to live her dreams, she stays to walk in God’s ways, caring for her mother. She follows Christ into what our world would see as foolishness. Yet, for her, this is faithful. She is following Jesus in downward mobility.
Such actions are not demanded of us. No, they are freely chosen. Jesus calls us to follow and the Spirit guides us in our ways. He leads through unfamiliar streets and in obscure ways, in crises which call for self-sacrifice and abundance that begs to be given away. God’s people follow in love, rejoice in suffering, delight in service, always carrying in their bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed (2 Corinthians 4:10).
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 10:35-45.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 10:35-45.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 10:35-45.