Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

1st Sunday after Shunoyo - the Festival of the Assumption

Having the Heart and Hands of a Servant

by Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington

Gospel: Matthew 20:20-28, Mark 10:35-45, Luke 12:50, 22:24-27

-James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, We know the many gospel stories about James and John. They were two brothers, fishing partners at the Sea of Galilee, sons of Salome and Zebedee, the “sons of thunder” who had hot tempers and wanted God’s wrath called down on a Samaritan village. The two disciples were the second pair of men to become disciples, right after Peter and Andrew.

John evolved into the “other disciple” in the Gospel of John who was on the Mount of Transfiguration, was at Jesus’ side during The Last Supper, was in the Garden of Gethsemane, was at the crucifixion, was entrusted with the care of Jesus’ mother when Jesus was killed on the cross, ran to the empty tomb with Peter and first believed in the Risen Christ, became the leader of the church at Ephesus, and wrote the Gospel of John and Epistle of I John.

In other words, James and John were with Jesus from the beginning of his ministry when he invited the four fishermen to follow him.

Matthew, writing later than Mark and copying 90% of Mark, softens Mark by having the mother of James and John make the request, rather than the two disciples making a demand. The whole scene is softened in Matthew, as Matthew attempts to make the disciples look better. Matthew 20:20-21, “Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom."

In Matthew, it appears that the author could not tolerate the arrogance of two disciples of Jesus making such a self- centered and self-serving statement, and so Matthew softens the situations by making the mother of the disciples ask a question on their behalf.

-"Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you." They called Jesus “teacher.” Repeatedly in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is THE teacher.

The two of them make a very a very self-centered and self-serving statement: “We want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

Sometimes, in our modern world in this twenty-first century, we still repeat the identical demand to God: “Lord God, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” And then we ask God for our own way, what we want e.g. healing for ourselves, our loved ones, a good job, a good spouse, a good house, a miracle of some sort, a special blessing, a way “out of a jam.”

-And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" Jesus knew to ask what they wanted.

This is the identical question that Jesus will ask of blind Bartimeaus in the next gospel lesson. It was obvious that Bartimeaus was physically blind. It was not so obvious that James and John were spiritually blind. (Perhaps that is why the incident with blind Bartemaeus was placed next in the Jesus Story.)

-And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." Jesus had previously taught that at the end of time, the Son of man (Jesus) would come in glory. Mark 8:38, “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." Jesus later taught in Mark 13:26, “Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.”

Here the truth comes out. James and John wanted glory. They wanted power, status, and authority. These two disciples, who were to become the leaders of the church, still didn’t “get it” about what Jesus was teaching that the Son of man would suffer, be killed and on the third day rise from the dead. James and John had visions of themselves in the future: one at the right hand of Jesus in glory; one at the left hand of Jesus in glory.

That is often true of us as well. That is, we can be baptized, grow up in the church, be religious and mouth all the right “Jesus words” and still not “get it” that we, too, are called to follow the path of Jesus and his humiliation and suffering.

Obviously, James and John still didn’t “get it.” James and John, after being commissioned as two of the twelve disciples, after spending time with Jesus, after following Jesus and after seeing the 5,000 fed, Jesus walking on/by the water, the Transfiguration, and several healings, they still didn’t “get it.”

Even after arguing and discussing with the other disciples about who was the greatest and even after hearing Jesus’ lessons about humility, becoming like children, “being the least of these is the greatest,” and “being a servant,” they STILL didn’t “get it.” Jesus had told them all these important teachings before, in Chapter 9, right after the Transfiguration, but they STILL didn’t “get it.”

We are the same many centuries later.

-But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. James and John thought they were simply asking for power, glory and authority, but they did not realize that the way to glory in the Christian faith is by the way of the cross, suffering and death. Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and the cross and had taught them three times about the cross and suffering but they still didn’t “get it.”

In the next gospel story, we are going to hear about “blind Bartimaes.” In this story, the two disciples are blind about the inevitability of suffering and the cross which they are called to bear.

-Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and his death on the cross. He was going to drink the cup of crucifixion and death. Jesus was going to be baptized into physical death.

In Mark, “the cup” is a symbol of suffering such as Jesus’ teachings in the Garden of Gethsemane. Mark 14:36, “He said, "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want."

-They replied, "We are able." Foolishly and optimistically, James and John still didn’t understand what Jesus had said that he was going to suffer, be rejected and die on the cross.

-Then Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; Jesus then prophecies that they too would suffer and be killed, just as he was going to experience soon in Jerusalem.

In Acts 12:1-2, we hear that James was martyred by Herod, “About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword.”

We don’t know how the Apostle John died. Perhaps of old age in Ephesus.

Jesus must have been aware that the disciples did not comprehend his earlier teaching that his disciples must pick up their crosses and lose their lives in order to follow him. From Mark 8:34ff, “34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

The disciples didn’t “get it” that they were going to pick up their crosses and lose their lives, even though Jesus had spoken these words to them earlier.

-but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." Jesus had been prepared by God to sit at God’s right hand. That was not the destiny of the disciples.

-When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. The other ten disciples got mad at James and John.

In an earlier story, after the "mountain top experience" on the Mount of Transfiguration, perhaps it was James and John who were thinking of themselves as being the "biggest big shots" of the twelve disciples. As a pastoral Biblical scholar, thinking back on the previous incident when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom of God, perhaps it was only James and John who thought that they were the “greatest.” And not Peter. Perhaps the event of experiencing the Transfiguration went only “to the heads” of James and John and not Peter. The same pattern of "thinking we are the greatest" is again true in this incident that we are studying.

-So Jesus called them and said to them, "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. Jesus knew the hearts and heads of secular rulers. Secular rulers often and usually “lord it over” the common folks. The “great rulers” are often tyrants at the core.

As modern people, we have witnessed this truth again and again in our own history; that many of the rulers of nations have proven to be no more than tyrants. Mean, malicious, and malevolent tyrants. I recall as a student in college, I actually had Mao’s Red Book on my shelf, not realizing what a tyrant he was. At that moment, it was “cool” and a mark of intellectual sophistication to have Mao’s wisdom on one’s book shelf. Little did I realize the insane and cruel things that Mao did to the Chinese people during his time of being China’s leader.

Yes, Jesus’ teaching is true: the “great rulers” are often no more than tyrants.

-But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, Instead, Jesus teaches his disciples again about what it means to be great. What it means to be great in the kingdom of God where Jesus rules a person’s life is to be a servant. We underscore, “You MUST be a servant.”

The sermon for the day is to focus on that central theme of being a servant. Being a servant is a MUST, a demand, like water being wet and fire being hot and ice being cold. So a follower of Christ MUST be a servant.

If water is not wet, it is not water.

If fire is not hot, it is not fire.

If ice is not cold, it is not ice.

If a follower of Christ is not a servant, he or she is not a disciple.

Primarily and simply, a servant serves others.

-and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. Underline the words, “of all.” The followers of Christ are to be servants “of all.” Not just servants of their family, friends, loved ones, fellow Christians, members of the church. In Mark’s gospel, we are invited to be servants of all people. Neither the gospels of Matthew nor Luke include the important words, “of all.”

-For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Jesus came not be served but to serve the needs of others. He came to give his life as a ransom for others. Jesus became the model of a servant life, a life which was lived in order to give it away in service to others.

The focus on this sermon needs to be on the word, “servant.”

Other than the similar teachings in Mark 9:33ff and Mark 10:35ff, there are numerous other Bible verses which inform us about being a servant:

Lu 1:38 - Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her.

Lu 1:48 - for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

Joh 12:26 - Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

Ac 3:13 - The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him.

Ac 3:26 - When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways."

Ac 4:27 - For in this city, in fact, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed,

Ac 4:30 - while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus."

Ro 1:1 - Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,

Ro 15:8 - For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,

Ga 1:10 - Am I now seeking human approval, or God's approval? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Eph 3:7 - Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me by the working of his power.

Col 1:7 - This you learned from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant. He is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf,

Col 1:23 - provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven. I, Paul, became a servant of this gospel

Col 1:25 - I became its servant according to God's commission that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,

Col 4:7 - Tychicus will tell you all the news about me; he is a beloved brother, a faithful minister, and a fellow servant in the Lord.

Col 4:12 - Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you. He is always wrestling in his prayers on your behalf, so that you may stand mature and fully assured in everything that God wills.

1Ti 4:6 - If you put these instructions before the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound teaching that you have followed.

2Ti 2:24 - And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient,

Tit 1:1 - Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness,

Jas 1:1 - James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, To the twelve tribes in the Dispersion: Greetings.

2Pe 1:1 -Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have received a faith as precious as ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ:

Jude 1:1 - Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, who are beloved in God the Father and kept safe for Jesus Christ:

Re 1:1 - The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place; he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

Re 15:3 - And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb: "Great and amazing are your deeds, Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways, King of the nations!

Re 19:10 - Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy."

Re 22:9 - but he said to me, "You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!"

1Co 3:9 - For we are God's servants, working together; you are God's field, God's building.

1Co 4:1 - Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries.

2Co 6:4 - but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities,

Php 1:1 - Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

1Pe 2:16 - As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

Re 19:2 - for his judgments are true and just; he has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication, and he has avenged on her the blood of his servants."

Re 19:5 - And from the throne came a voice saying, "Praise our God, all you his servants, and all who fear him, small and great."

Re 22:3 - Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;

Re 22:6 - And he said to me, "These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place."

1Co 7:22 - For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.

1Co 9:19 - For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

Ga 3:28 - There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Ga 4:7 - So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Php 2:7 - but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form.

Back to the gospel text for Pentecost 20B. Yes, a sermon for Pentecost 20B, if that sermon is textually faithful, needs focus on Jesus' invitation to be a servant.

But the text continues:

This is the only place in the four gospels that the word, “ransom,” is used. The word is also used in 1 Timothy 2:5-6, “For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time.”

There are sixteen uses of the word, “ransom,” in the Old Testament. The word means “payment.”

For example, in Exodus 30:16, “You shall take the atonement money from the Israelites and shall designate it for the service of the tent of meeting; before the Lord it will be a reminder to the Israelites of the ransom given for your lives.

Ps 49:7 - Truly, no ransom avails for one's life, there is no price one can give to God for it.

Ps 49:8 - For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice,

Ps 49:15 - But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. (Selah)

Ho 13:14 -Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from Death? O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your destruction? Compassion is hidden from my eyes.

When all is said and done, Jesus ransoms the whole world from the power of Sheol.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentary/Analysis for the 1st sunday after Shunoyo

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