Sunday, October 18, 2015 10:00 am ·  0 Comments
James and John were close to Jesus. But they worried that this closeness wouldn’t last out eternity, so they asked him to do just one thing for them: ‘let us sit next to you forever.’ Mark 10:35-45
When preaching this text, most interpret the desire of two of Jesus’ disciples to give them the most powerful place in heaven. But in seeking to think deeply into the text, I was drawn to the deep yearning of James and John.
What if they weren’t worried about power? What if, instead, they were worried they might lose something more important? What if they were afraid of losing the intimate relationship with Jesus?
Jesus is in an intimate relationship with the disciples and they wish to preserve that intimacy.
What does this intimacy look like?
This relationship of intimacy with Jesus, on his part, is best summed up with the biblical verse, the shortest in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” Jesus has chosen to throw in his lot with us, and the cost for him is tears. He is intimately caught up in our grief.
Perhaps it isn’t power or pride of place that the disciples want, but they yearn for an eternally intimate relationship with Jesus. They have been his closest disciples. They think that they know what it will take to continue that closeness eternally: proximity. If they are near Jesus, they will be his intimate companions.
But we know it is possible to be physically close to others without feeling a sense of intimacy.
So what were the disciples missing? What did Jesus understand that they didn’t?
Intimacy involves suffering.
When he hears what they want, Jesus is flabbergasted. He asks if they are ready to suffer as he will, if they will be able to pay the cost of being in such intimate relationship with him.
When they eagerly assent, he realizes that, yes, they will suffer; (history teaches us that James was the first to die — by the sword); they will live out their baptism — but even he doesn’t get to plan out eternity.
There is another participant in this relationship. God is the one who plans eternity. But what is God like? People often think of God as distant, uninvolved, judgmental, uncaring or even vengeful. But then we hear John, the Gospel writer,
“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” (John 1.18)
Jesus is the best hint of what God is like because Jesus is close to God’s heart.
And if we know Jesus, then it is in the midst of our grief, as our hearts break, that God enters in.
Jesus is the argument against that kind of impersonal God. Jesus walks right into the midst of grief, brokenness; he is intimately present, and takes our suffering on himself. Jesus wept.
The cost of intimacy is suffering.
What else did Jesus understand that the disciples didn’t?
This is revealed out of the reaction of the other ten disciples when they hear what James and John have been up to. Thinking they are after power, they are angry. But Jesus corrects them.
‘You are thinking about relationships in communities where power replaces intimacy as the prime commodity.’
“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.”
Thanks to CBC Radio, I heard for the first time, a story, told by Tommy Douglas in 1944.
Tommy Douglas was first a Christian minister, second a story teller and third a politician.
I’d like to include just part of The Story of Mouseland
It’s the story of a place called Mouseland. Mouseland was a place where all the little mice lived and played, were born and died.
They even had a Parliament. And every four years they had an election.
On election day all the little mice used to go to the ballot box and they used to elect a government. A government made up of black cats.
All the laws were good laws. For cats. But, oh, they were hard on the mice. And when the mice couldn’t put up with it any more, they voted the black cats out. . . . They put in the white cats.
Now the white cats said: “The trouble with Mouseland is those round mouseholes we got. If you put us in we’ll establish square mouseholes.” And they did. And the square mouseholes were twice as big as the round mouseholes, and now the cat could get both his paws in.
You see, the trouble wasn’t with the colour of the cat. The trouble was that they were cats. And because they were cats, they naturally looked after cats instead of mice.
This was an illustration of what the People of first century Palestine were living with. Those Roman cats weren’t about to keep their paws out of the mouseholes of the people of Israel.
Jesus saw the disciples being preoccupied with power, so he told the disciples, ‘you better not think that some of you can have power over the others. None of you will follow me if you try to be first over the others.’
‘Rather,’ he teaches, ‘the heart of intimacy is not power, but service.’
The cost of intimacy with Jesus is to serve.
Suffering and serving, characteristics of the intimate relationship we are called to have with Jesus and God.
I was honoured to bless a recent marriage. As the groom looked around at his family, at his and his parents’ friends, he described a beautiful image that spoke to this intimacy we are called to have with one another.
He described a forest, seeing the individual trees standing, seemingly independent of one another. But underground, their roots are all intertwined, supporting one another.
It’s that kind of intimacy that Jesus introduced to human relationships. It’s an image of what he hoped would continue on after he left the disciples, where they would strive to serve others, even when it meant suffering for others. It’s what he wanted for his followers, for his church, for the world.
It’s not such a bad vision is it? Where love for others rules our hearts and actions. That’s the benefit of intimacy.