The central section of Mark’s gospel (Mk 8:27-10:52) is built around the three passion resurrection announcements of Jesus (Mk 8:31; 9:31; 10: 33-34). As in the case of Mark 8:31 (cf. Mk 8:27) and in Mark 9:31, the third passion teaching too is set in the context of Jesus’ journey. However, it is only in connection with the third announcement that the evangelist mentions Jerusalem as the goal of Jesus’ journey (Mk 10:32). The vivid picture of Jesus marching towards his destiny with determination, and of the frightened disciples following him (Mk 10:32) forms a solemn introduction to the announcement of the passion. The announcement itself (Mk 10: 33-34) is more detailed than the first two announcements (Mk 8:31; 9:31). Furthermore, there is close correspondence between the details of Mark 10: 33-34 and the different stages of the passion story. This correspondence can be seen in the following elements of Mark 10: 33-34.
Deliverance to the chief priests and scribes (Mk 14: 53)
Condemnation (Mk 14: 64)
Deliverance to the Gentiles (Mk 15: 1)
Mocking, spitting, scourging (Mk 15: 15-20)
Execution (Mk 15: 24-39)
Resurrection (Mk 16: 1-8)
Because of these similarities, it is possible to consider that some details have been added to the third passion announcement in the light of the passion event itself. Probably, the details have been added in the pre-Markan stage of the Tradition.
Disciples’ failure to grasp
The unmistakable clarity with which Jesus spoke of his impending suffering and death did not make any impression on his disciples. They failed to grasp the true significance of what Jesus solemnly announced. The request of James and John immediately after the passion announcement reveals their incomprehension. We could recall that the same lack of understanding was manifested by the disciples after the two passion teachings of Jesus (Mk 8: 32-33; 9: 32). As on these occasions, Jesus’ instruction of disciples follows also after the third passion teaching.
The evangelist, Mark, highlights the incomprehension motif by describing the requests of the two brothers, James and John (Mk 10: 35-37). Guided by ambitions for power, position and authority – James and John request Jesus for places of honour in his glory. In response Jesus poses a challenging counter question to them: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10: 38). Mark certainly understands the “cup” as a metaphor for Jesus’ suffering and death (cf. Mk 14: 36; also Is 51: 17, 22; Ps 75: 8). Similarly, also the word “baptism” in Mark 10: 38, is used as a symbol of the passion (cf. Lk 12: 50). Both James and John will indeed participate, in their own time, in the sufferings of Jesus (Mk 10: 39). But Jesus tells them that it is not in his power to grant their request for the seat of honour are for those whom the Father has prepared them (Mk 10: 40). Jesus’ answer thus seems to be a refusal to their request. In any case it was not a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It was a challenge to them to realize that the only way to glory is by sharing in the suffering of Jesus. And they do not know what they are asking for (Mk 10: 38) if they are not also prepared to pay the price in order to share Jesus’ glory. The price they are asked to pay is nothing less than fellowship with Jesus and communion in his sufferings.
Resentment of the other disciples
The resentment of the other disciples (Mk 10: 41) shows that they too were not free from such ambitions for power and position. They are indignant at James and John because they felt that the brothers had in fact outwitted them. An appropriate occasion is now at hand and Jesus does not miss this opportunity to give them yet another solemn teaching on TRUE GREATNESS and LEADERSHIP (cf. Mk 9: 35). What follows in Mark 10: 42-45 is a lesson in discipleship, a lesson for the Christian community of all times. Jesus tells his disciples in no uncertain terms that there is absolutely no room for selfish ambition and rivalry in the community of disciples. Accepting the principle of authority and leadership, Jesus affirms that authority is for service and not to display power and domination, not to “lord over them” as Gentile rulers do. The unequivocal and emphatic words of Jesus, “but it shall not be so among you” (Mk 10: 42) present a striking contrast between the exercise of authority by pagan rulers and what Jesus demands of his disciples and leaders of Christian communities. Using the imagery of the domestic servant and the slave, who are not motivated by their own interests but by those of others, Jesus sets before the disciples the ideal manner of exercising authority (Mk 10: 43-44). For Jesus, then, authority is to be exercised in humble service, and the one who is in authority must become not only the servant but the slave of all. Thus the unambiguous teaching of Jesus is that among his followers, the question of greatness and leadership is to be defined by service.
It must be remembered that Jesus’ teaching about what it means to be the ‘first’ and a ‘great’ was not a theoretical exposition of an ideal. Jesus was not presenting an abstract idea to his disciples; on the contrary, his teaching was concerned with life and practice, existential. He himself is the supreme example of what he taught. The reversal of all human standards of rank and greatness (Mk 10: 43-44) is exemplified in “Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). The expression “for many” in Mark 10: 45 is the literal rendering of the Greek anti pollon which actually means “for all.” The word “ransom” originally referred to the price paid to redeem a pledge, to free a slave etc. Metaphorically used to God, the word ‘ransom’ became part of the vocabulary of redemption in the Old Testament (cf. Ps 49:8; Is 61: 1; 63: 4 etc). In Mark 10: 45 also the word ‘ransom’ is metaphorically used. Most probably, it echoes Isaiah 53: 10 where the word means “sin offering” or “atonement offering.” The suffering servant of Isaiah 53: 10 gave his life as a sin offering. Just so Jesus surrenders his life as an expiatory, sin offering for humankind (Mk 10: 45). The service of the Son of Man consists in giving his life for others. It is a life-giving service for man’s salvation. The saying in Mark 10: 45 can equally be understood as follows: “For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve, namely, to give his life for the salvation of all.” It is this supreme example of his life-giving service that Jesus sets before his disciples as an illustration of what greatness and authority should mean for them.
James and John belonged to the privileged group of disciples. Yet they failed to understand the meaning of the authority of Jesus as a servant. Even their readiness to risk their life was linked with an ulterior motive: ambition for power and honour. If this happened with regard to them, the danger is very real in our present day Church too. The indignation of the other ten is due to the fact that they too had the same hidden agenda to seek places of honour and authority. It is the consequence of a ‘power game.’
For JESUS AUTHORITY is to be made manifest by HUMBLES SERVICE. Here again we see that the value of the Kingdom of God are at variance with the values of the world.
What is your understanding/opinion with regard to this? …