Year B 29th Sunday: Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, approached him.
'Master,' they said to him, 'We want you to do us a favour.'
10:36 He said to them, 'What is it you want me to do for you?'
10:37 They said to him,
'Allow us to sit one at your right hand and the other at your left in your glory.'
10:38 But Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I shall drink,
or be baptised with the baptism with which I shall be baptised?'
10:39 They replied, 'We can.' Jesus said to them,
'The cup that I shall drink you shall drink,
and with the baptism with which I shall be baptised you shall be baptised,
10:40 but as for seats at my right hand or my left, these are not mine to grant;
they belong to those to whom they have been allotted.'
10:41 When the other ten heard this they began to feel indignant with James and John,
10:42 so Jesus called them to him and said to them,
'You know that among the gentiles those they call their rulers lord it over them,
and their great men make their authority felt.
10:43 Among you this is not to happen.
No; anyone who wants to become great among you must be your servant,
10:44 And anyone who wants to be first among you must be slave to all.
10:45 For the Son of man himself came not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many.'

The question of James and John comes immediately after Jesus' third passion announcement. For the third time the reaction of the disciples shows their incomprehension. The first time it was Peter (8:22) by trying to change Jesus' mind; the second time it was all the disciples (9:34) by arguing who would be the greatest; now, the third time it is James and John by asking to be seated in Jesus' glory on his right and left. So, Mark is following a pattern. He tells us that on his way to Jerusalem (8:22 - 10,52), Jesus announced his passion in Jerusalem three times. Three times the disciples showed a wrong reaction. Three times it gave Jesus the opportunity to explain his spirituality, which will turn out to be quite different from what his disciples expected. Didn't Jesus start the Gospel by preaching (1:15), 'Change your mind' (meta-noia)? Immediately after today's story a blind person will be healed (10,46-52). Isn't he a symbol of the disciples who need a new insight?

James and John
When Jesus called James and John to follow him, they 'let away' their father in the boat with his employees (01:19-20). He must have been a wealthy father. Were these two richly educated brothers still thinking about their career? John must have been a bossy type. Wasn't he the one who tried to stop people from throwing out demons in Jesus' name, 'because they don't follow us' (09:38: not 'you', but 'us'!)?

Cup and Baptism
First Jesus compares his passion with a cup; and then with his baptism. The cup will return at the Last Supper where Jesus will take/receive the cup of wine (14:23). It represents his blood, his life. And the disciples will drink it... The cup returns again some moments later, when Jesus is praying in Gethsemane and where he will ask (14:36), 'Remove this cup from me.' Jesus compares what will happen to him in Jerusalem with his baptism. What happened when he was baptised at the beginning of his public life? There, Jesus joined the people who admitted that things were wrong in their lives and that they desired to make a new start. They were the people amongst whom Jesus wanted to be found (02:17), 'I did not come to call righteous, but sinners.’ His place was among the sinners.

So, on some days he would be placed between two bandits, and he would be considered one of them. He would turn out to be such a great sinner that the people didn’t even want to him give the Jewish death penalty; he was too impure for that according to his opponents. No, they wanted to give him the Roman, pagan death penalty, the most humiliating Roman death penalty possible: as a crucified slave, destroyed, nude, to be seen by everybody: a mockery. That is what was in store for him. That is what Jesus calls his 'baptism'. That second baptism is a 'logical' consequence of his first baptism in the beginning.

Picture Meditation

We are looking at a stained glass window in the church of St James, London, probably made around 1900. James is pictured with a cross and in wealthy gold(!) clothes; we see John half hidden behind James. Both are talking to Jesus, who is pictured in red. James is looking up at Jesus. John seems to be lost in his thoughts. They are pictured at the moment when Jesus says to them (according to the banderole above Jesus' head), 'Nescitis quid petistis', 'you don't know what you are asking.'

Jesus’ hands show that he tries to stop them. He doesn't want them to undergo his baptism.

But the artist already knows that they will. He pictures James (and John?) barefooted. In art history, it is always a symbol for following the way of the Lord.

It is striking that plants grow between the stones where they are standing. Jesus' feet yield fruit.

The artist doesn't picture what will happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. But still he does, by framing this picture in thorn branches (symbols of the passion) and leaves of the oak (symbols of strength).

by Fr Dries van den Akker SJ

St Mark's Gospel Reflections