Mark 10: 35-52
Wanting the best for ourselves and for our loved ones is a natural aspiration. Of course we want the best for our children and for ourselves. Where it’s misguided is when personal ambition becomes over competitive and inhibits the advancement of others. Then personal ambition is accompanied by self interest and self service to the exclusion of anyone else. One of the most damaging and mistaken illusions of our times is that self sufficiency, independence and being free of all ties to, and responsibility for, others can be detrimental to our own progress. The notion of ‘service’ is too often preceded with ‘self’ – ‘self service’ – with ‘me first’ becoming an acceptable aim of life. Even in everyday language these days it is common to put ourselves first and so we speak of ‘me and my brother / sister’, rather than the customary correct ‘my brother/sister and I’. An ambitious hankering for power, prestige, status and wealth is repugnant when nothing or nobody is permitted to get in the way.
The concept of service – that we always serve something or someone whether we are aware of it or not – is at the very heart of much of Mark’s Gospel.
The healing of the blind man by Jesus at Bethsaida (Mk.8: 22-26) is significant in that the man’s sight is at first only partially restored. It takes some time before the man regains his full sight. Eventually he does ‘ see everything clearly (Mk.8:25). This is immediately followed by the incident at Caesarea Philippi when Jesus asked his disciples about his own identity. This in turn is followed by the announcement of his suffering and death (Mk. 8:31), but Peter doesn’t get it and so rebukes Jesus who in turn rebukes him. Again in chapter 9 Jesus repeats the announcement of his impending death and the disciples are so bewildered that they are stunned into silence. Instead they argue together about which of them is the greatest; again they just don’t get it. So Jesus takes a little child and says in effect that leadership and greatness are about welcoming the vulnerable.
In chapter 10, Jesus says once more that he is going to Jerusalem to die. And, again, the disciples do not get it. First, James and John ask for special places of honour and then the rest of the disciples resent their self-interested ambition . Jesus’ words still haven’t sunk in so he says as plainly and clearly as possible that to be great is to serve others and that to be first is to be last. Then comes another healing of a blind man, Bartimaeus whose blindness is instantly cured and we read that immediately he ‘ followed him …’ (Mk.10:52)
It’s interesting to note that these healings of blind people accompany his announcements of his suffering and death, the disciples’ failure to understand, and Jesus teaching about what constitutes greatness seem to be linked. Is it Mark’s intention to emphasise that the life of Jesus stands in such complete contrast to our tendency to see greatness and leadership in terms of status, wealth, power and self service? The warning of Jesus is quite clearly that there is no escaping service. Either we willingly serve others or we become slaves to our illusions that we can act merely out of self-interest and be free and secure and thus achieve a happiness through self-service, possessions, wealth and status.
The disciples found it so hard to break free of their preconceived notions and accept that the way to freedom and true fulfilment lay in serving others. It is significant that the restoration of the sight of the blind man at Bethsaida, recorded in Mark 8:22-25, was in stages, his sight was restored gradually. So too with the disciples, and with disciples of every age, the truth often dawns gradually – that serving others, although costly, is the way we are intended to live and the way through which we enter a life that is real and eternal.
Loving God you never cease ministering to the needs of your people
In Jesus Christ you showed us the way we should serve one another.
Open our eyes to see the needs of all who are vulnerable and in need,
our hearts to care with true compassion,
our hands to bring generous comfort, support and relief,
that we may be as Christ to them.
In his name, we pray. Amen.
Revd Michael Diffey