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21st Sunday After Pentecost - October 17, 2021

Have you all seen that meme where a little blonde girl is sitting on the couch reading a copy of the New Testament.3

The meme unfolds in three panels and the first says

“Jesus is so nice.”

And the girl turns the page and the next panel says

“I hope nothing bad happens to him.”

And the little girl has turned the page again, and the third panel of the meme shows her disappointed little face saying

“Oh boy . . “

When we hear James and John asking to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in our Gospel reading today, we hear it with a pronounced sense of dramatic irony. Unlike James and John, unlike the little girl in the second panel of the meme, we have read what’s going to happen to Jesus in a few short chapters, and, on it’s surface, OH BOY … it is NOT going to look like what James and John expect glory to look like. I’m sure Jesus getting crucified is not exactly the success story the disciples were hoping for when they joined up.

The bad news for James and John, is that we’re going to read this story two millennia later and think that they’re kind of boneheads for asking Jesus for the best spots in the kingdom.

I mean, no joke, in the verses just before today’s Gospel reading Jesus has literally just finished telling the disciples FOR THE THIRD TIME that he’s going to be mocked and spat upon and flogged and killed in Jerusalem.

And James and John, apparently not reading the room at all, say to him . . .

“Hey Jesus! We’re going to ask you for something, but you have to say ‘yes’ okay?”

I can just imagine Jesus closing his eyes and sighing deeply. Maybe pushing up his glasses, running his hands down his face, saying:

“What do you want me to do for you?”

And James and John, ask “Grant us the highest places of power in your coming kingdom.”

James and John want to be the most successful of the disciples. They want to see the view from the top.

It’s actually good news for James and John that they are NOT going to get what they are asking for here.

God’s vision for Jesus’ work in the world is not nearly so myopic so short sighted as that of James and John in today’s reading.

In the system James and John envision, the kingdom inaugurated by Jesus would have a power structure shaped like a pyramid. Jesus at the top, James and John right there beneath him. Everyone else getting squeezed out.

The good news for James and John is that God’s kingdom is infinitely more generous than some sort of hierarchy wherein they have to try to trick their way into the top positions to be close to Jesus. God’s kingdom isn’t like the world around them - they don’t have to climb and compete and curry favor to be successful disciples. God is far too generous for that kind of plan.

Instead, Jesus reminds the disciples that in God’s kingdom, that pyramid of prosperity is turned upside down: the first shall be last and the last shall be first. In this tenth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Sunday by Sunday we’ve heard the vision that Jesus is offering to his disciples:

To love. IS to keep the law.

To be truly rich is to give it away.