The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity - Reflection

‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’  
Mark 10:45

Brothers and sisters, the more I read the Gospels, the more convinced I am that one of the best things we could do is to learn to stand on our hands. We need to see the world upside down if we are to see it the way God sees it. There is a famous story where God teaches this to Francis of Assisi in a dream, for you see Francis was very proud of his town; it had such strong walls, the stones are massive and can hold off any attacker. But says God: ‘stand on your hands’. G.K. Chesterton picks up the tale: ‘the point is this: that whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls or the massive foundations of its watchtowers […] would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. […] Instead of being merely proud of his strong city because it could not be moved, he would be thankful to God Almighty that it had not been dropped!’  Yes, seeing things upside down is often to see things as they truly are; to see them as God sees them. Let’s take today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:35-45) and turn it upside down and hopefully we’ll understand this passage as never before. We are going to begin at the end.

What does the topsy-turvy world of God look like? Or put more simply, what does God’s kingdom look like? Look at verse 45: ‘For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ The king of this Kingdom is unlike any king before or since. This king is not served, He does not have people running after Him, the king of this kingdom, well He looks like those at the bottom of our world, He looks like a servant, a slave even! The person at the top of God’s kingdom, is at the bottom of ours. God’s kingdom is upside down! And what did this king come to do? He came, our reading says: ‘to give his life as a ransom for many.’ The king of God’s kingdom dies for His enemies. To put it very simply: the person at the bottom in our calculations is usually at the top in God’s.

Okay, now we’ve started at the end, we can make sense of the verses above v45. Look at verse 42: ‘Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ Jesus is the best example of exactly what He is saying. Again God tells us His kingdom—when looked at from the world—is upside down. The ones at the top are the servants, the one who wants to be first must be a slave to all. In our world so many spend their lives trying to—in effect—get to a position where others serve them. The more people you have who do what you say the more important you are. And because of that we learn from a very early age that the key to success is to have our will done. When we say ‘I want this’ and it happens we are deemed as successful. When we say ‘I’ll do what someone else wants’ we are deemed as a failure; v43: ‘Not so [in God’s kingdom]. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.’ Okay, we’re now in the right position to understand what is going on in the first verses of our reading. We’ve seen that with God the top is the bottom, and the bottom is the top. With God the high point of His time on earth—the time which is most glorious—is when He is on His cross. Now with this view, listen to the request of James and John, v35: ‘Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to [Jesus]. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ In just the way the world has taught them, James and John want their will done; and what do they want?, v37: ‘Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.’ They want to be at the top. What they are saying is: ‘Jesus when you’re a king we want to be your prime ministers. We want to tell people what to do, we want power, we want wealth, we want servants.’ Of course that’s what they want! That’s what our world teaches us to want. But by now, having read from the bottom up, we know that it’s exactly the wrong way round. We’ve seen—haven’t we—that when Jesus came in His glory He wasn’t seated on a throne, He was nailed on the cross. Those who were on His left and right weren’t His prime ministers they were people being executed as common slaves. No wonder Jesus says to James and John, v38: ’You don’t know what you are asking’. Because what they are actually asking is to be killed as slaves. James and John don’t get it, because they see the world as we see it, when God’s kingdom works exactly the other way round. James and John are in hot water and they don’t even know it!

However, before we laugh at the disciples let’s consider a group of people who think just like them: us! How often do we dream about being at the top? How often do we wish we had more money, maybe some servants. How often do we wish things would be better, if people just served us. This happens when I pray and I’m sure I’m not the only one. How often do our prayers basically amount to ‘God, please give me what I want’. We pray like this because we’re trained by our world to think that doing what we want is the secret to success. But brothers and sisters it’s time to see the world the other way round; it’s time to learn to stand on our hands.

Where do we begin? We begin with prayer. We need to learn to say not ‘my will, Lord, but yours’. No wonder when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, He has us say: ’Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done’. We pray this all the time because we need to learn this basic lesson over and over again. Me just as much as you. Through prayer we need to see the world upside down, in order to see the world as God does. For only when we learn to stand on our hands will we finally become the people we are meant to be, and only then will we start helping God to change the world for the better! Amen (from Fr Mike).