Gospel: Mark 10:32-45 (Lent 5: Series B)

Reading Time: 4 mins

When we change the subject too quickly from the ugliness of the cross to its beauty, or from suffering to glory, problems arise.

Change the subject. It is a natural reaction when someone raises an uncomfortable topic. We do not like where the conversation is headed so we avoid engagement. We redirect attention. We distract, divert, and deflect.

Your wife brings up (again) her request that the two of you see a marriage counselor. You react by asking if she remembered to get the oil changed. Your neighbor shares the latest proof of his conspiracy theory about the election. You respond with thoughts about the new third baseman and the prospects for a return to the playoffs. Your boss asks about the assignment she gave you two weeks ago, the one with the unrealistic deadline. You reply with details about last month’s better-than-expected numbers.

In each of these scenarios, someone brings up something touchy. The topic makes you uncomfortable, so you attempt to change the conversation. We have all done it. It is a natural move. Rather than facing a difficult issue, we redirect attention and hope the trouble goes away.

That is what the disciples were doing in the appointed Gospel reading for this week from Mark 10. Actually, there are two options for this particular Sunday, a longer version and a shorter version. The shorter option begins at verse 35 with James’ and John’s shameless request. The longer option includes the preceding three verses by starting at verse 32. I suggest going with the longer version. It helps us see their question for Jesus as means to avoid something unpleasant. This, in turn, can help your hearers face difficult subjects in their own lives.

What was that subject they were trying to avoid? For the third time in three chapters, Jesus announced clearly and directly His impending rejection, condemnation, suffering, and death. The first time He told them (Mark 8:31-38), Peter went on the offensive and challenged Jesus’ announcement. He learned the hard way (“get behind me Satan”) that it is not a good idea to contradict the Lord. The second time (Mark 9:30-32), the disciples had learned better. Jesus announced His fate and they responded with crickets. Keep your mouth shut, they were thinking. If we do not acknowledge what He said, maybe it will go away. Then, in this week’s longer text, He brought it up for a third time (Mark 10:32-34). This time the silence was as uncomfortable as the announcement, so two of the disciples did what all of us are naturally inclined to do, they changed the subject.

It is not necessary (for this sermon, at least) to dwell on what they asked Jesus. James’ and John’s suggested seating arrangement raises a different problem which leads to a different sermon. This is why I would begin the sermon by rereading verses 32-35, and then stop. I would point out how the twelve disciples were hearing Jesus speak clearly and directly about His suffering for the third time, and they did not like it. So, they changed the subject. And who could blame them? They had given up everything to follow Jesus. They had staked their futures on His. His repeated insistence that He would suffer had implications for their lives (see verses 38-39). This made them uncomfortable.

His repeated insistence that He would suffer had implications for their lives. This made them uncomfortable.

His rejection and suffering have implications for our lives, too. If we are paying attention, it also makes us uncomfortable.

One of the challenges of Lent and our cross-centered traditions is that they lead us to emphasize the wondrous nature of the cross (Lutheran Service Book (LSB), hymn #426).[1] We glory in this cross (LSB #427) and give thousand, thousand thanks to Him who died (LSB #420). This is all well and good. The eyes of faith see beauty in the cross by gazing at the good God has worked through it. But it is possible for the goodness God brought from Jesus’ death to obscure the terror and tragedy of Israel’s rejection of the Messiah. He came to His own people, to save them from their sin, and they responded by killing Him. As the Gospels and the preaching in Acts emphasize, the cross was very bad news before it was ever good news.

When we change the subject too quickly from the ugliness of the cross to its beauty, or from suffering to glory (as James and John tried to do), two problems arise. First, we short circuit the need for the resurrection. If the crucifixion is not taken seriously as the darkest of days, the resurrection becomes a postscript instead of the foundation of our faith (see 1 Corinthians 15). Recall that the disciples do not seem to have heard Jesus say in any of His three announcements that He would also rise. Second, premature glorying in the cross makes it hard to help Christians bear their own crosses and endure their own suffering. None of us likes to suffer. None of us wants to endure the difficulties of bearing our own (or another’s) cross. So, we put it out of mind and hope it never comes our way. The result goes in one of two directions. Either we avoid suffering (and, therefore, also service which involves suffering), or we are caught off guard by the suffering we experience for doing good and question God.

The solution to these potential problems is to call the cross what it is: Terrible, awful, and tragic. Then, you will want to remind your hearers that we, who have been united with Jesus in baptism, will also suffer. But even more (and here is the promise you get to proclaim) Jesus’ resurrection means our own. We too, suffering a little while (see 1 Peter 5:10), will rise from the dead and live under Him in His Kingdom for all eternity. On that day there will never again be any need to change the subject.


Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Mark 10:35-45.

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 Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 10:35-45.


[1] Lutheran Service Book, prepared by the Commission on Worship of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House. 2006.