XX Pentecost, Year B
Jb 38:1-7,(34-41) or * Is 53:4-12
Ps 104:1-9,24,35c * Ps 91:9-16
Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind: "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me. "Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements– surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?
"Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you? Can you send forth lightnings, so that they may go and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind? Who has the wisdom to number the clouds? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods cling together? "Can you hunt the prey for the lion, or satisfy the appetite of the young lions, when they crouch in their dens, or lie in wait in their covert? Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?
* (Isaiah 53:4-12)
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him thewill of the LORD shall prosper. Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. And one does not presume to take this honor, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek." In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, "Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you. " And he said to them, "What is it you want me to do for you?" And they said to him, "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?" They replied, "We are able." 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; 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." When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
We are also given another interesting twist on the way mimesis developed in the circle around Jesus. A few weeks back we saw the problems of mimesis in the discussion of the greatest. In this episode, the problem is solved. Jesus has a right and Jesus has a left. 2 spaces available. James and John are two brothers. All things being equal, if they each sit at the side of Jesus, well it’s just like they are equal. Resolution of conflict, but only for them. For as soon as the other disciples get wind of this, they become rather indignant and angry at the sons of thunder. For in order for James and John to co-opt the seats at the side of Jesus, it was necessary for them to form an alliance and thus effectively eliminate all other challengers. Or we might say, the mimetic process ends with the Zebedee boys ‘scapegoating’ the rest of the apostles. [Of course, in Matthew’s redaction we again see his wonderful apologetic hand: it is not the apostles but their mother, their sweet little innocent mother, who makes a natural request for her good boys (like something out of The Godfather).]
But notice: This time instead of children being the models, it is more than likely it was the women present who were serving the meal who are pointed out as examples of kingdom life. Men, you have to hear this: the Christian life is not possible when you only think and live as a male, you are also called to enter the world of a child and that of a woman. These are Jesus’ examples and they are anti-hierarchical. And there’s another shot across the bow of the principalities and powers that depend upon differentiation in order to create hierarchy. Another mimetic phenomenon is challenged.
Regarding verse 45: Way too much has been made of the metaphor of ‘ransom’, that is, “Who got paid what for what?” It is far more important to note that ransom is a form of exchange. Jesus participates at the core of the victimage mechanism, but in so doing he transforms ‘exchange’ forever, marking it by his cross. No more shall ‘exchange’ be the exclusive domain of the principalities and powers. When we are free to value others more highly than ourselves, we view them as God views us in the Lord Jesus. When we serve others, we are giving value to life, the life of the other. The mimetic mechanism does not bring life it brings death. Only God is about life. Only God brings life. And he does this in what has been called ‘the wonderful exchange.’ (Perhaps the best exponent of this in the twentieth century was Karl Barth. Barth succeeded in a non-sacrificial approach to the atonement, particularly in the intimate connection he makes between incarnation and atonement in Church Dogmatics IV/1 [which is a corollary to creation and covenant in Church Dogmatics III/1].)
Robert Hamerton-Kelly has profoundly stated it this way (thanks Bob): “How shall we interpret the reference to ransom in 10:45 (lutron anti pollon)? The literal pole of the metaphor of ransom is the buying back of hostages. In this particular application, a person rather than money is given in exchange for the hostages – Jesus goes into captivity instead of us. A sacrificial interpretation would have Jesus giving his life instead of ours to appease the wrath of a vengeful God, which does not fit the metaphor, because captivity does not entail the wrath of the captor and ransom is not the same as appeasement. A careful decoding of the metaphor has one person going into captivity instead of the many, and that makes good sense in terms of our theory.
According to our theory and in terms of the metaphor, Jesus went into captivity to the Generative Mimetic Scapegoating Mechanism (GMSM) in order that we might be released from it. He gave his life as a ransom to the powers of mimetic rivalry, and because the mimetic rivalry is ours, strictly speaking he gave himself to us. By dying he unveiled the mechanism of our mimetic rivalry and thus enables us to turn away from it. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to help us in that turning. The traditional idea that Christ died as a substitute for us retains its validity, therefore, in terms of a non-sacrificial interpretation of the metaphor of ransom. He makes himself the victim of our violence instead of us.” (The Gospel and the Sacred)
C.F.D. Moule also notes 1) that ‘lutron’ outside the New Testament (it is a virtual hapax legomenon) is ‘used of ransom of a prisoner of war or a slave (as does Hamerton-Kelly), and 2) that ‘lutron’ ought probably not be traced back to the Hebrew ‘kippur’ but is more than likely to be understood “as ‘aslam’ (= guilt offering: see Lev. 5:14-6:7, 8: 1-7, Num. 5:5-8).” He then goes on to point out the more probable background of Isaiah 53:10 and the background of the Servant. Moule is thus able to trace a hermeneutic bit of thinking back to Jesus. (The Gospel According to St Mark)
Finally, while it is important to note ‘the reversal of roles’ that occurs in our text, it is also crucial to see that this reversal is not the normal revolutionary model (“meet the new boss, same as the old boss”). This reversal all depends on the positive mimetic approach of service, service understood within a theology of the cross.
The Christology that has so far been presented in Mark is a clear-cut theology of the cross. Especially when viewed through the lens of mimetic theory, this Christology also is framed as a coherent spirituality. This coherence in the portrait of Jesus may well have come from the imagination of the early Christian community but it is also just as possible that the story of Jesus is actually being told. We prefer the latter, although the former is possible, we admit. For this reason (among others) we tend to see verse 45 as an authentic Son of Man saying that belongs here even if Mark (or the tradition) redacted it here.
What does the world see when it looks at the church? Do you think we moderns are any different than James and John? How deep has mimesis spread its toxin in our Christian spirituality and ministry? Socrates said that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living.’ If take Mark, and Jesus, seriously, then we must begin to ask why we are like the disciples and what it is we are not seeing. God pours out the Spirit to open our eyes, but that is next week.