Lent 5 – March 21, 2021

“Jesus’ Ministry: Getting Attitudes Adjusted” – Mark 10:32-45


Introduction: where we’ve been

As we continue our Lenten look at Jesus’ ministry – between the bookends of His temptation and His crucifixion – let me remind you of where we have been. We have looked at:

– Getting Things Straight – about Jesus’ identity, His mission and purpose, and our discipleship

– Getting the Temple Clean – both the Jerusalem temple and the temple of our bodies

– Getting the Prophecies Fulfilled – prophecies about His birth, His death, and being lifted up on the cross for our salvation, like the ancient serpent on the pole.


Today, we hear about Jesus’ interaction with James and John, and focus on Getting Attitudes Adjusted.


1. Getting Attitudes Adjusted: children (and adults)

If you have children – even if they’re grown up now – you know about getting attitudes adjusted. Sometimes kids just get in a snit – whether they get up on the wrong side of the bed, end up on the wrong side of an argument, or are fed up – actually not fed up – on the wrong side of hunger. You know what I’m talking about. They are a storm cloud walking into the room. They are a self-disaster waiting to happen. They are a debate that you can never win. Nothing you do or say can change their mind. Nothing you do or say can positively influence their actions. Nothing you do or say can prevent shouting, flailing about, and tears. Depending on their parenting philosophy, parents handle those situations differently. Depending on the child’s own personality, children respond to their parents’ actions differently, too. It often takes a good deal of time for that storm cloud attitude to dissipate.

Unfortunately, we adults don’t completely grow out of that ability to get into a snit. The reasons change… or maybe they don’t! We don’t get our own way, and everything and everyone seems to be against us. We’re the storm cloud interacting with our spouse, our kids, our co-workers, or our social contacts. It’s in those times that people don’t really want to be around us – and for good reason. We need our attitude adjusted, by our Father, our Heavenly Father.


2. Getting Attitudes Adjusted: religious leaders

Getting attitudes adjusted was one significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry. Most of the time that attitude adjustment came at the expense of the religious leaders, the Pharisees, and scribes, and chief priests. Let me give you some examples:

It was to those who trusted that they were righteous that Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and tax-collector who went to the temple to pray. The proud Pharisee who bragged about the goodness of his own morals and life did not go home right with God. He needed an attitude adjustment.

It was to Pharisees who loved money that Jesus told the parable of the rich man who cared nothing for Lazarus, the poor man who sat at his gate begging for food. That rich man ended up in torment in Hades. Jesus implied that those Pharisees needed an attitude adjustment or they might likewise end up in Hades.

It was to the scribes and Pharisees who despised Jesus for eating with tax-collectors and sinners that Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost younger son. He clearly said that God is interested in those who are spiritually lost, while at the same time saying that the Pharisees, who believed they were spiritually superior, needed an attitude adjustment – like the older son who criticized his father for welcoming back the wayward younger son.

It was to the hypocritical Pharisees and scribes that Jesus pronounced a needed attitude adjustment for they paid great attention to the little matters of the law, while neglecting the more important matters like justice, mercy and faithfulness.


3. Getting Attitudes Adjusted: the disciples

I could go on, but I don’t want you to get the impression that it was only those religious leaders who generally opposed Jesus that needed an attitude adjustment. Today’s Gospel reading from Mark 10 points out that even Jesus’ disciples, even 2 out of his inner circle of 3 closest disciples, needed to get their attitudes adjusted. And that makes us stand up and pay attention, because if it applied to them, it probably also applies to us. Actually it definitely also applies to us.

You heard the account. James and John come to Jesus and ask for a favour: “Can we be the ones who sit in the seats of honour – at your right and at your left – when you come in your glory?” In other words, “aren’t we your favourites, aren’t we better than the other 10 guys, aren’t we worthy of a special place in Your kingdom?”

Now, just so that you know, this wasn’t the only time the disciples argued about greatness, and they weren’t the only ones who wanted to be first and best.

Matthew 18 and Luke 9 and Mark 9 likely all record the same account of arguing about greatness for in each case that discussion is followed with Jesus pointing to a child as great and important in the Kingdom of God. But let’s consider the Mark 9 account because it’s only one chapter before our Gospel reading in Mark 10. There, the disciples and Jesus were returning to ministry “headquarters” in Capernaum. Jesus point-blank asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But the disciples zipped their mouths shut, they said nothing, because they were ashamed and embarrassed that they had been arguing about who was the greatest. Pride! What an insidious sin!

Even on Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the night before He was crucified, even on Maundy Thursday after Jesus shared the Last Supper with them, Luke tells us that a dispute arose among the disciples about who was regarded as the greatest. The GOAT… the Greatest Disciple Of All Time.

Here in Mark 10, it’s James and John that get the spotlight – but a notorious spotlight – for their sense of pride, of greatness, of one-up-man-ship. Oh, and we hear that the other 10 were indignant with James and John – that means annoyed, displeased… maybe even jealous because they didn’t think of asking Jesus that first.


4. Getting Attitudes Adjusted: our world and us

You know, that whole episode tells us that our world is not so much different from that first century Jewish one. Last Sunday, it was the Grammy Awards marking spectacular work in the music industry – who’s the best. National Hockey League coach Darryl Sutter recently declared Connor McDavid the best hockey player. In everything from best marks at school to most sales in the company to who pastors the biggest church, we still seem to be all about “who is the greatest.”

We definitely ALL need to pay attention to what Jesus said to James and John and also to what He said after that to ALL the disciples.

Jesus answered the request of James and John with a question: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” That was a figure of speech that indicated an experience of suffering, maybe even death. Jesus was asking, “Are you willing to suffer and die for me? Even if you are, even if you do, those places of honour are not mine to give, but the Heavenly Father’s.”

Then to ALL the disciples, Jesus explained, “My kingdom is not like the kingdoms of the world. They have great ones and rulers and lords who exercise authority and power and privilege over those beneath them. It’s all about hierarchy and greatness and prestige. But for us, for you, it’s not like that at all. You want to be great? Put on your apron of servanthood. You want to be first? Get to the back of the line. You want your name in lights? Be willing to set up those lights and to  serve in the background.”

Jesus was adjusting attitudes. He was saying that leaders serve, that good hockey players serve up assists to help others play well, that straight ‘A’ students serve others by helping them to learn and grow, that pastors of big churches take time to mentor and equip others to multiply the Gospel ministry into the future. A true disciple in God’s Kingdom does not have his or her eyes fixed only on themselves. They first have their eyes fixed on Jesus, and then on others, on how they can help others to connect meaningfully and purposefully and personally with Jesus.


5. The story of Daniel

In one of his books, Max Lucado tells the story of a Brazilian man named Daniel. Daniel worked at a gym and dreamed of owning his own gym one day. A bank agreed to finance the purchase and his brother agreed to co-sign the note. However, when Daniel went to pick up the check he discovered that his brother had already picked up the money and used it to retire the mortgage on his own house. Of course Daniel was still on the hook to repay the loan. Daniel was understandably angry and bitter that his own brother would trick him like that. He went to his brother’s house and pounded on the door. The brother answered with his young daughter in his arms. He knew Daniel wouldn’t hit him if he was holding a child. Daniel left but vowed to himself that if he ever saw him again he would hurt him physically.

A few months later Daniel met an American missionary and became a Christian. Although Daniel realized he had been forgiven much by Christ, he still found it hard to forgive his brother. He knew that eventually he would run into his brother. One day he saw his brother on a busy street. Here’s how Daniel recorded the encounter:

I saw him, but he didn’t see me. I felt my fist clenched and my face get hot. My initial impulse was to grab him around the throat and choke the life out of him. But as I looked into his face, my anger began to melt. For as I saw him, I saw the image of my father. I saw my father’s eyes. I saw my father’s look. I saw my father’s expression. And as I saw my father in his face, my enemy once again became my brother.

Daniel walked toward him. Before the brother could run away in fear, Daniel grabbed his shoulder. The brother expected the worst, but instead he found himself being hugged by Daniel’s big arms, and the two brothers stood there – in the middle of the river of people – and wept.

Daniel had had his attitude adjusted by Jesus and had become a true and unselfish disciple. He yielded his lordship over his brother on account of the stolen money. He was willing to forgive the past, and to serve, and to restore the relationship.


6. Jesus’ attitude: humility and servanthood

Let’s consider Jesus’ attitude for a moment. At the beginning of the Gospel reading we heard Jesus’ third prediction of His suffering and death in three consecutive chapters of Mark’s story of Jesus. He was willing to be betrayed by one of his own disciples who turned against Him and who turned Him over to the religious leaders of the Jews. He was willing to be condemned to death – innocently! Without having committed sin! With only the jealousy of those very same religious leaders as testimony against Him. He was willing to be humiliated – mocked and spit on, flogged and killed. He was indeed Lord of heaven and earth, but when it came to this, He was willing to give up for a time His true and rightful authority and power and privilege. What did He say to the disciples? “I have come not to be served, but to serve, and to give my life as a ransom for many, for ALL!”

Before the Last Supper meal, Jesus demonstrated that servanthood. When none of the disciples would do the simple service of washing the dusty feet of the Passover participants, Jesus, Himself, got a towel and a basin of water and, as an example of servanthood, washed His disciples’ feet. He taught them what His action meant: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”

A couple of hours later, as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest, Jesus displayed His servant’s heart: “God, please take this cup of suffering away from me – oh, there’s the cup that Jesus was talking about with James and John, the cup of suffering that they believed they could handle – take this cup of suffering away from me… but Your will be done, not mine.” Jesus was willing to be a servant – even to the point of death – all so that you and I could be forgiven and saved. And you are!! You are forgiven because Jesus died for you. What did our Jeremiah reading say? “I will forgive your iniquities / you sins, and I will remember your sins no more!” That’s God’s promise! You are also saved because Jesus rose from the dead for you. That’s what the new covenant that Jeremiah wrote about is all about. Actually, the beginning of that chapter 31 features this precious truth… God says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love!” Rely on that, too… it’s God’s promise for YOU!


7. Your attitude: the same as Jesus!

Let me give you some foreshadowing… because it fits in right here. But before that, let me give you some context for that foreshadowing. When St. Paul went on his missionary journeys one of the cities that he visited was Philippi. Philippi was a Roman city that honoured the emperor Caesar as lord and god. The Roman Empire was all about power and authority, and Caesar was the ultimate ruler and authority. But there were other heroes that seemed to exhibit supernatural powers, and sometimes a shrine – called a Heroon – was erected to honour and deify those accomplished heroes who had climbed over the heap of others to prominence. This is an artist’s depiction of a Heroon in Philippi.

Next Sunday’s Epistle reading will be from Philippians 2 where we will read that we should be concerned about others, not just ourselves, and that our attitude – yes, our ATTITUDE – should be in stark contrast to the exalting of those ancient Greek heroes. Rather, our attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who humbled Himself, emptied Himself, made Himself nothing, was willing to serve, all the way to death on a cross. The Lordship of Jesus, the servanthood of Jesus, turned the concept of a Heroon upside down, honouring humility and service over greatness. YOUR attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, says Paul. And that only echoes what Jesus, Himself, said. “The rulers of the Gentiles / the Romans exercise lordship and authority over them. But NOT SO with you…” Be a servant! For Jesus’ sake, and find greatness in that adjusted attitude. Amen.

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