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Reform Magazine | August 20, 2017

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Chapter and verse: Mark 10:35-45

Chapter and verse: Mark 10:35-45

Rosalind Selby reflects on an argument among Jesus’ followers

rosalind_selby“The context for Jesus’ words is certainly not a template for ministry”

One of the things I value about the United Reformed Church’s way of serving Communion is that servers and the presiding person receive last; at the end of this Bible passage is the heart of understanding this type of ministry. Jesus came to serve and give all that he had and all that he is. And yet, the context for Jesus’ words is certainly not a template for ministry; Jesus’ words read like an admonition to James and John, who sought promises of status, and to the other disciples, who were angry with the brothers. Let’s note a few things about the brothers’ request and the disciples’ anger at it.

First, it is clear that the early Church was no more comfortable with the status-seeking request made by the Sons of Thunder than today’s readers. Matthew (in Matthew 20:20) “tones down” the story and has their mother come to Jesus – though I, for one, am not comfortable that a woman has become the villain of the piece. Secondly, let’s recall that James and John had been part of the family business, having left their father with hired men. Had they not followed Jesus, they might now have been taking up business responsibilities and been the “first” amongst their workers; perhaps the expectations they had grown up with had skewed their understanding of leadership.

Thirdly, let’s consider why the 10 are angry with James and John. It would be great if we could regard the disciples’ anger as directed at the brothers’ status-seeking (were the other disciples already taking to heart Jesus’ paradigm of leadership?) But I don’t think that’s the case. I think that the 10 are jealous that the brothers might have been stealing a march on them and I base this thought on the fact that Jesus called “them” to listen to what he had to say – and the only people this pronoun could refer to is the 10. All are being challenged about their understanding of the status of Jesus-followers; the first disciples, the early Church (Matthew still retains the word “angry”) as well as the Church today struggle with status and leadership for and around all sorts of people. For the URC, and for various denominations today, that struggle might be around gender or sexuality, for example, and it’s also at the heart of URC thinking about moderators and bishops….

Rosalind Selby is principal of Northern College, Manchester

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This is an extract from the October 2015 edition of Reform.

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