I was still in seminary when I last tackled the key to understanding Mark’s gospel. According to the Rev. Dr. John Yieh, Mark’s gospel message can be summed up in one verse, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). This passage has found new meaning for me thanks to Facebook and my seminary classmate, the Rev. Allen Pruitt who shared this gem of a meme.
The interested part of that verse from Mark’s Gospel is actually the double conjunction that the NRSV misses in its translation. In Greek, the sentence begins with a “kai” which means “and” and a “gar” which means “for.” Each of my go-to translations in BibleWorks keys in on this two-word phrase, except for the NRSV.
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. (NRSV)
For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (KJV)
For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many. (NLT)
In the NRSV, this sentence seems like a non sequitur from Jesus’ teaching on the pattern for service that should define his disciples, but in reality, Jesus is using himself as the example of faithful leadership. Note also that Jesus declares himself the Son of Man. For a Gospel obsessed with keeping Jesus’ messianic secret, this verse really does unlock everything we need to know.
Jesus is the Son of Man, the anointed one for whom the world had been waiting. He came to earth not as a god who is to be worshipped and adored, but he deigned to be like us and to show us how to live lives of humble service. Finally, as the Son of Man, his life’s end (no pun intended) would be to die that we might have life abundant. To paraphrase Thomas Cranmer, Mark 10:45 contains all things necessary for salvation, which makes it vitally important for the preacher to study it carefully and to take the time look beyond the Biblical text that comes printed on the lectionary insert from Morehouse.