Career Advancement
Mark 10:32-45

Back in the days when I worked for the Del Monte Corporation, I made the rounds of several colleges’ “Career Days.”

There, standing on lawns or plazas in my blue suit and red tie, I would watch students carrying a growing supply of free pens and Frisbees embossed with corporate logos.

As they wandered around the various companies’ exhibit booths, I could feel their growing anxiety about pending interviews.

Well, in today’s passage we see James and John trying to manage their career advancement – but they don’t yet realize that their corporate logo will be a cross.

They’ve given 110% to Jesus so now they want assurance that they will get their promotions, to sit at the right hand and left hand of him in Heaven.

Middle management isn’t good enough for them; they want to be VPs in the Kingdom of God, but it turns out that they are not on the same page as their CEO.

Today’s reading opens with the passage (Mark 10:32a):  They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way.…

Just a while before, Peter had blurted out, “You are the Messiah”.

Of course, Peter had assumed that Jesus would use his miraculous powers to set the world straight for them, but instead Jesus rebuked him saying that he was missing the point:

Jesus isn’t going to “fix” their world for them, he is going to ask for their commitment to a radical new way of life.

There’s an old story about a flock of ducks that used to swim in the village pond.

The remarkable thing was that on Sundays they would all waddle across the grass, then across the traffic circle in the middle of town, and up the stairs and into the old church.

Then these ducks en mass would waddle down the aisle and sit themselves in the pews.

There was a leader of the group and in duck quacks he used to give a message that they are more than ducks.

God has given them wings, he would say, wings so they could fly.

With these wings they could travel to distant ponds and tell other ducks about the miracle of these wings, and they could find ducks with broken wings and bring them help.

Then the ducks would join together in a unison quack of “Amen”, and then they’d all waddle back to the pond.

Jesus has other plans and greater expectations for us.

As Jesus pressed on to Jerusalem his teaching emphasis shifted.

In the earlier chapters of Mark, he’d taught about the Kingdom of God and about who he is, but now Jesus shifted his teaching from being about the Kingdom to how to be a disciple.

Mark 8:34 (Message)“Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how.”

Yet despite his predictions about his sacrificial death, the message had not yet sunk in with his followers and they became alarmed at his words.

Jesus said,

Mark 10:33-34“We are going up to Jerusalem,… and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”

Different Bible versions translate the Greek in various ways    to capture the disciples’ response, using words like “astonished”, “in a daze” and “puzzled and not just a little afraid”.

The bottom line is that they were confused and scared because like Jesus, they sensed impending doom, but unlike him they sensed no purpose in it.

But it was high time they start understanding him because it would be only a matter of days before they would witness Judas’ betrayal and Jesus’ crucifixion.

If the Disciples are going to start orienting their lives around Jesus’ teachings, it ought to be now.

However, as we heard from today’s not-so-flattering narrative, they weren’t ready yet.

They were walking the same road as Jesus, but unlike him, their walk was in confusion and fear.

The gap between Jesus’ mission and his followers’ understanding became clear when John and James took him aside for a little buttonholing.

Mark 10:35   Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Where have you heard a request like that before?

Sure.  From children.

Give me whatever I want, so their question underscored their spiritual immaturity.

Instead of humbly following Jesus with child-like trust, they tried a childish strategy to manipulate him.

But rather than lashing out with exasperation, Jesus turned it into a teaching moment.

Jesus loves us just as we are, but too much to leave us this way.

In Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel Christ Recrucified, there is a scene in which four village men confess their sins to one another in the presence of a clergyman.

After hearing the extent of everyone’s sins, one of the men cries out, “How can God let us live on the earth? Why doesn’t He kill us to purify creation?”

The priest answers, “Because, Michelis, God is a potter; He works in mud.”

So, what are we going to ask God to mold out of our lives?

When I first started going to church, I was amazed at the healing power of the Spirit.

To that point, life had been driven by unhealthy and compulsive behaviors.

I’d tried determination and therapy but only had minimal change.

Then with newfound prayer, almost overnight I found healing and peace – it felt miraculous.

I became enthused with the teaching of Terry Cole Whittaker, a charismatic spokesperson for “Name It and Claim It” spirituality.

She taught that if you can just visualize success then it will manifest in your life.

Okay, so I prayed for a higher position in the company – and it was mine.

Then I prayed for a new car and it was mine … and at company expense, too.

I prayed for a bigger house, and before you could say “Amen” I was moving in.

Whether or not God was actually granting these prayers, at the time I believed so.

So, I wondered what else could I ask God for?

An even more luxurious car?

My wants are bottomless, and so I prayed for them all.

Actually, I had joined James and John in praying, “I want you to do whatever I ask.”

It is only after we grow closer and more trusting that we are ready for the real demands and mission that God has planned or us.

Mark 10:38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”

After the two brothers naively assured Jesus that they were up to it, Jesus turned the entire episode into a “teaching moment” about discipleship.

Jesus’ previous teachings, exorcisms, healings, and welcoming of social outcasts are all part of the same message:

Through Jesus, the Kingdom of God is breaking through and turning the kingdom of sinful men on its head.

Mark 10:42-44 “You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” he said, “and when people get a little power how quickly it goes to their heads. It’s not going to be that way with you. Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave. That is what the Son of Man has done: He came to serve, not to be served—and then to give away his life in exchange for many who are held hostage.”

The measure of a person is not how many servants he has, but how many people he serves.

Richard Foster is a well-known author on prayer and other Christian spiritual practices.

He tells about receiving a phone call from a friend at a particularly busy and inconvenient moment.

His friend’s wife had the family car, so he wanted to know if Richard could take him on several errands.

Richard was preparing to teach a college class, but since the man was his friend, he reluctantly agreed.

As he ran out the door, car keys in hand, he grabbed a book to read along the way.

It was Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – the Lutheran pastor who was martyred by the Nazis for opposing Hitler.

Foster picked up his friend, but the errands did not go well.

There were unexpected stops, traffic was bad, and precious time kept ticking away.

Finally, they pulled into a parking lot, the friend got out, and an irritated Richard stayed behind with his book.

He opened it to the bookmark, and read these words:

“The second service that one should perform for another in a Christian community is that of active helpfulness. This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters. There is a multitude of these things wherever people live together. Nobody is too good for the meanest service. One who worries about the loss of time that such petty, outward acts of helpfulness entail is usually taking the importance of his own career too solemnly.”

Richard felt godsmacked for of his irritated attitude.

It is in these simple acts that love is expressed.

As Mother Teresa said, “We can do no great things,
only small things with great love.”

But while God may not grant our naïve wishes like Terry Cole Whittaker taught, there is power in prayer put into action with a servant’s heart, a humble heart.

How do we cultivate a humble heart?

Well, that’s what Lent is all about.

We cultivate a humble heart by turning down the volume on distractions that surround us.

Turning down the volume on the critical voice we have of those around us

Turning down the volume on the self-blame and shame and humiliations that haunt us.

God is potter and He works with mud … molding us as we allow.

This Lent you decide … fold your arms and keep doing it your way, or unfold your arms and let God into your heart.