a Homily for Proper 24B
Text: Mark 10:35-45
The Overwhelming Sound of Voices
There are times when I hear too many voices. My son is chattering about something, my wife is trying to actually tell me about tomorrow’s plans, and my daughter is getting louder and hoping that I hear her above all the cacophony and my brain fizzles; like an overloaded circuit. Pop! At those moments I have been known to step out of the room for a reboot.
Sometimes our Scripture has several voices vying for our attention. We hear them. Sometimes we are able to pick out one we really want to hear. Often that’s Jesus. And yet the other voices are still noise, because we can’t hear what is really being said.
Sometimes that cacophony is the sound. Sometimes it isn’t about the individual voices and what the people are yammering about. Sometimes it is the sound of all the voices working at once that reveals GOD’s voice.
This means that our pursuit of individual voices can mean that we miss what the whole sound is saying. Like missing the forest for the trees. Missing the symphony for the oboes.
After last week’s story of the pious and rich young man, we skip over an important piece of text. They are nearly to Jerusalem and Jesus foretells his death for the third and final time. This means our part of the story today is about how the disciples screw up for a third time, right? That’s the pattern. In chapter 8, Jesus foretells his death: Peter gets out of line. Chapter 9, Jesus foretells his death: the disciples argue over who is greatest. So here in chapter 10, Jesus foretells his death and along come the Sons of Thunder, the brothers Zebede, James and John to lead a giant screw up. In some ways, the biggest of the three.
Since we are trying to hear the sound of the sound, rather than individual voices, let’s explore aspects of the sound, rather than individuals.
Jesus is bringing His followers to Jerusalem and stops to tell them for a third time of His death. Two brothers step forward and demand Jesus give them a special place: to rise and fall with Jesus. The action is bold and selfish, but also courageous and sacrificial. It is a strange request made in a strange way. It could be seen as a power grab on their part, but brings with it certain death. This makes it hard to argue that they saw it so beneficially without hearing the whole sound.
The other disciples clearly see it as a power grab, however. And they’re livid. But Jesus’s teaching doesn’t condemn the brothers. It seems to clarify things for all of them. Sort of. Jesus tells them that to be great, they must become servants.
The Familiar Refrain
We’ve heard Jesus use this same language throughout the gospel we call Mark and recognize it in all of the canonical gospels. It has been intensifying in its use in the last two chapters, however. It is Jesus’s literary device of reversing our expectations. Rulers must be servants. The first in line must stand at the back. This is all too familiar for us. And to hear it, we seem to start digging into it with the same greed we start with. If I want to win, then I have to lose. OK, watch me throw the game so I can really win the game. Or perhaps we feel good about ourselves I stood at the back of the line and got that poor sucker ahead of me. Score! It feels so good to be the best! To be honest, I cringe when I hear people pitch the virtue of giving as being about “feeling good” about it. It isn’t generous when it is born out of selfishness.
If we listen, though to that big swirling sound, we can hear something different. We hear the sound of Jesus pleading with His disciples to be humble, not to be great. The greatness they all crave (it isn’t just James and John) is given by GOD and only goes to those that deserve it in the way GOD determines deserving. It doesn’t come to us because we gamed the system or we tried really hard to earn it. It goes to those that become something else for the sake of the gospel.
This also means that the judge isn’t us to one another, but GOD and GOD alone. Even Jesus, Son of God, throws up His hands and says don’t look at me to choose! The mistake all of the disciples make is that they are all jockeying for position, trying to order themselves and figure this out. They are still stuck in the last argument over who is the greatest—punishing within themselves James and John for stepping out of line.
When Jesus says “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” I no longer hear Jesus ordering anybody, but compelling everyone. If you are to follow me, then you must be a servant. If we are all striving to be servants, then there are no masters.
As these disparate voices come together, we hear a new sound. It is no longer noise, but something different. True music. Each voice harmonizing to reveal GOD’s true voice in all its beauty.
We hear that being the kind of person that GOD wants us to be involves not only devotion to GOD, but truly generous giving to one another. Giving to everyone regardless of their need. That our work is to give, not to judge.
That we aren’t to worry about our position here in this world, because GOD’s world isn’t ordered this way. The generous are rewarded with the love they share. And our focus is not on what we receive in the future but on what we give in the present.
We are called to give. With love in our hearts. With hope for one another. With the belief that we are GOD’s hands in the world. With trust that GOD is doing special things that we can see and much we can’t see. With hope that our tomorrow is more like GOD’s dream than today.
We give to give because GOD believes in us. Trusts us. Loves us. And calls us to give to the glory of GOD and to the service of one another. May this be always in our hearts.