Mark chapter 10 has been our companion all through October, and as I’ve remarked several times, it collects some of the most challenging examples of Jesus’ call to discipleship. I mean, think of the stories we’ve heard just the past 2 weeks. Jesus has been pointing to his own total self-giving, inviting people to trust in him rather than in their own presuppositions about how life works – and so far he has been met with incomprehension or flat refusal.
2 weeks ago, the so-called rich young ruler, a man who had all sorts of spiritual assets and social assets and financial assets, was heartbroken to learn that it was impossible for him to follow Jesus while continuing to rely on those. People try to treat Jesus like that a lot – as if he were not worth trusting yourself to, but something to be tacked on top of the resources you really trust in. When Jesus told him it doesn’t work that way, he walked out on Jesus’ call.
Then last week, we saw the disciples make a similar mistake: we saw them approach Jesus based on the idea that Jesus’ total self-giving was not the heart of the story, but a prelude to getting the kind of assets the rich young ruler trusted in: power, money, authority, “glory.” They thought that Jesus was going to come into his own not as a self-giving, self-emptying God, but as the kind of God the world imagines, and they wanted to make sure to get their share of all the things that kind of God would want you to trust in.
So Jesus said to them “What do you want me to do for you?” And once more, now to his own disciples, he has to explain (as he still does to us, over and over) that it doesn’t work that way. Self-giving and servanthood is at the heart of how God does things. Trusting God is not an add-on to trusting the world. It’s a permanent lifestyle. God doesn’t do things through collecting glory, but by giving it away. He doesn’t do things by keeping blessing, but by being a blessing to others. That’s the call. That’s God’s style.
Today, we get the capper to this challenging chapter 10 of Mark. The Gospel writers are so artful in the way they collect these episodes of Jesus’ life. We’ve seen people who are insiders, spiritually privileged, turn out to be unable to accept Jesus’ call, unable to imagine trusting him as he does things his way – but rather than conclude with one more, Mark finishes instead with a very striking contrast, brilliantly presented.