The beginning of Holy Week, the scene in which Jesus makes a “triumphant entry” into Jerusalem, is a scene that is ultimately political. Jesus demands his followers make a choice between two kings and kingdoms. Since chapter eight, when Peter and the disciples recognize that Jesus is the Messiah – the King of the Jews – everything that Jesus has done and each step they have taken have led them to this point. Jesus has continually set before them illustrations of what God’s Kingdom looks like against the reality in which they live. Parables and healings have been interspersed with predictions that such a movement will lead Jesus to the cross. Jesus makes it clear that we cannot have it both ways – loyalty to the status quo makes one an enemy of God’s Kingdom. Likewise, loyalty to God’s Kingdom and King Jesus makes one an enemy to those that wield power through any means other than servanthood.
The stakes are high. Jesus knows the costs and continues to explain them to his disciples. Challenging the powers will get you killed. But the price of living fully the life God designed far outweighs the false choice of living life in competition with one another, looking out for oneself at the expense of others. Servanthood is the calling God places on each of us – carrying one another’s burdens as equals, rather than rivals.
Jesus’ remarks, in Mark 10: 32-45, sum this up. Jesus is on the road to Jerusalem with his disciples. He knows this road will end in Jerusalem with suffering and humiliation. The disciples still think it will end triumphantly. Which makes Jesus’ triumphant entry all the more jarring for we who know how the story goes. Along the road, Jesus pointedly tells the disciples that he would be handed over to the authorities, not as a hero but as a traitor. Immediately, after what should be frightening news, James and John ask Jesus to “grant us whatever we ask.” Those demanding words end up being a request for special status when God’s kingdom comes.
Ever been talking to your kids and as soon as you finish explaining some serious life lesson, they abruptly change the topic around something they want? These two disciples seem to have had the same problem. Have the been listening? Do they not understand? Patiently, Jesus once again explains the difference between ‘pagan’ rules and God’s Kingdom.
You know how it is with pagan nations, he said. Think how their so-called rulers act. They lord it over their subjects. The high and mighty ones boss the rest around. But that’s not how it’s going to be with you. Anyone who wants to be great among you must become your servant. Anyone who wants to be first must be everyone’s slave. Don’t you see? The son of man didn’t come to be waited on. He came to be the servant, to give his life “as a ransom for many.”
It’s with this understanding that Jesus makes his entry into Jerusalem. It’s God’s holy city but it’s a city far from God, filled with people more concerned with getting ahead, no matter who may get stepped on in the process. It’s a city Jesus can’t rule over. It’s a city with an agenda moving in the opposite direction of his calling; living opposed to his rules. While the common among them may have greeted Jesus as a king, the powerful wouldn’t let Jesus get any further than this simple ride on the back of a donkey.
Such background work has been helpful to me as I approach Palm Sunday. To see Jesus’ entry through the lens of his journey to Jerusalem, against the cultural norms in which he lived, and through the not-quite perceiving eyes of his disciples paints a picture of two competing ethics: An ethic of self-promotion that isolates and an ethic of servanthood that welcomes community. For Mark, it’s the ethic of servanthood and community that motivates Jesus’ actions and stories during the week leading up to Good Friday. This holy week, may the simple ethic of servanthood overcome the loud and prevalent ethic of self-promotion. May we make enough room in our busy days for the presence of Christ to slow us down and correct our inclinations for self and open us up to the blessing of serving others.
- What keeps us from accepting the posture of servanthood?
- How are we like James and John?
- Is it easy to recognize the difference between self -promotion and servanthood? Are the differences more subtle than we like to think?
- What habits must we change in order to be a servant?
- What positions or things are we holding on to that prevents us from embracing servanthood?
- What does a community that submits to each other look and feel like?
- How is that different than our present communities?
- To whom is such a community the most attractive?
Read Mark 8:1 – 10:52 prior to class this week. Challenge your class to do the same. Will Jesus’ triumphant Entry look different after a close reading of these stories?
Challenge your class to continue its reading during holy week, following Jesus’ passion: Mark 11:1- Mark 15:39. Does the servant ethic continue?