What does it mean to pattern a life after Jesus? In many ways this is the fundamental question of our faith. Throughout Scripture and in the teachings of our faith we are taught that we are to model our lives after Christ. Jesus comes to us in our world and offers a ‘Way of Life.’ So, what does this mean and what does it look like for us today in the year 2018?
Our Gospel today from Mark points us in this direction. We hear today how Jesus goes deeper with James and John and brings to the forefront some of our core values and tenants of our faith; those being Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism and Eucharist are so central to our practice and understanding as Christians. We believe that all ministry, regardless of where we are called by God is rooted in Baptism. In baptism, promises are made that we will continue to be steeped in our Christian formation and pattern our life after Jesus. The baptismal promise of: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” (BAS, 159) talks about this very point. We are to continue a life where we are grounded in the teachings of our faith and where we continue to be nourished through the Eucharist. The cup that Jesus refers to is a reference to ‘the cup of suffering’ in the garden of Gethsemane and serves to foretell the suffering and death of Jesus. The passage we did not hear today that comes right before this conversation with James and John is one where Jesus talks about his upcoming trial, death and resurrection. We must remember the context in which the Eucharist is given to us; in the cold, dark hours, in the midst of uncertainty, fear, loneliness and anxiety Jesus gives us the gift of the Eucharist. This is how he demonstrates to the disciples gathered with him and to us how he wishes to be remembered. We have been doing so ever since.
In a way Jesus is saying to James and John, be careful of what you wish for by asking them if they are willing to undergo the suffering and death that he is foretelling for himself. In baptism we all undergo a ‘mini-death.’ The action of dipping the head over the font, being submerged in the water represents the death of our old selves and lives. As we are raised up again out of the water we are raised again in a new life with Christ. Baptism is rooted in death and resurrection. Every day we come across moments and examples where the old falls away to make way for the new. The changing of seasons, the ending and beginning of relationships the birth of a baby, the election of a new municipal council and Mayor all represent in themselves moments of death and resurrection.
But James and John miss this point. They come to Jesus separate from the others. They are concerned and have been talking between the two them about who is the greatest. They are convinced, for reasons unknown that they, James and John, should sit right next to Jesus in the Kingdom. I am really struck by the question they pose to Jesus, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask?” Of all the questions they could ask, this is the question they ask right after Jesus has been talking about his upcoming trial and death! It is so easy and so tempting to come before Jesus and ask that he “just fix this problem” or if he could, “just bring world peace, an end to hunger, that the Canucks will win the Stanley cup” and a whole host of other petitions that we just would love Jesus to handle for us.
What do we notice about Jesus? He doesn’t turn to James and John and say, “okay guys, absolutely my good and faithful servants . . . No problem, all taken care of, just keep this under your hat for now - wouldn’t want the others to find out.” No, Jesus doesn’t do that at all. Rather Jesus turns the situation around and points again to the way of life that he is modelling for them.
So perhaps asking Jesus to grant us whatever we ask is the wrong question to ask. Rather as people and as a church we are invited into a deeper relationship and understanding in the way of life that we have chosen and claimed for ourselves.
For Jesus, the Kingdom that he is describing, the new world order that he is heralding, is not one lined with rulers and governors. Rather the Kingdom is one where would be leaders take on the role of servant. The way of life that Jesus models for us and that becomes the pattern of our faith is one where we participate in the Kingdom of God and one that begins now, today in this world, in this lifetime. When we pattern our lives around Jesus we soon discover, or rediscover, just how central Jesus is in our daily lives.
Our life, church and faith should never be about what others can do for us. Rather our Christian calling is about how do I, with all that I am and all that I have, participate in a way of life that will draw me and others into a deeper relationship with the Divine. In so doing, God’s Kingdom grows and strengthens here in this world at this time and place. A marvelous thought isn’t it, that God’s Kingdom is one that extends to us in our brokenness and the fragility of this world.