Mark’s Key Verse

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.

There is so much to love about this picture

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.

We are able

The Sons of Thunder

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, James and John, the two sons of Zebedee whom Jesus, earlier in Mark, named the Sons of Thunder, speak three of the most dangerous words in all of Scripture.  In fact, they are three of the most dangerous words in the life of faith in any age.

“We are able.”

Perhaps the only thing that could have made these words more dangerous would have been replacing the plural pronoun, “we,” with its singular version, “I.”  Throughout the course of human history, it has been in those moments when a person or a group of people think that they can go about life on their own, that the spiral into sin begins.  This is why Moses was so keen on having the people of Israel remember that it was God, and not him or them, that brought them out of bondage in Egypt and into the Promised Land.  It is imperative that we remember that it isn’t I or we that can accomplish anything, but instead, as our Baptismal Covenant says,

“I will, with God’s help.”

Of course, we all know how hard this is to remember.  The people of Israel forgot with regularity, which is why God gave them the Judges.  The disciples, even as they walked alongside Jesus, forgot.  They argued over which one was the greatest.  They failed to heal because they forgot to pray.  They ran in fear when the going go tough.  And, in this week’s lesson from Mark, they point blank told Jesus, “we are able.”  Truth be told, I’m pretty good at letting God know that I don’t need his help in my life as well.  When things are going well, it is so easy to think that you’ve done it on your own.  Even when times are tough, it is tempting to think that God has let you down.  The reality is, that everything we have, even the very breath within us, is a gift from God.  Everything we do is done with God’s help.