Just as Jesus reminds his disciples, Jesus reminds us that success looks very different in the Kingdom of God. Success in the Kingdom of God looks like the selling of what you own, and giving the money to the poor; like following Jesus to the cross; like for “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
February 26, 2023
“Measure Your Life in Love”
How Do You Measure Success?
Mark 10: 35-45
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
Mark 10: 35-45
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Appoint us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to appoint, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; instead, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.”
How Do You Measure Success? Mark 10:35-45
The idea for this Lenten series came about after many conversations which I was having with colleagues, with church members, with friends, with family. The common theme to all these conversations seemed to be the need to create standards which we can use to see if we are making progress through this chaotic new reality so many of us find ourselves in right now.
Of course, the easy standards of measurements are the ones which we have relied on in the past to determine if we are successful or not in our endeavors. As communities of faith, for generations, we have followed the models taught in business schools, meaning that the only measurements which mattered to us were quantitative numbers, numbers that are easily measured, easily compared, easily understood. These quantitative numbers usually came in the form of counting bottoms in the pews and tallying up the bottom lines for our budgets. Anything beyond that in determining the success of our communities of faith didn’t matter. Only the things which could be easily tracked and understood counted literally.
However as we all know, there have been seismic cultural shifts over the last few years. What worked before no longer works in this new reality. The same can be said about our measures for tracking success. These quantitative numbers give us a very limited picture. These quantitative numbers ignore the stories. They ignore the people. They ignore the experiences of transformation people have through our various ministries and missions. These quantitative numbers ignore the Kingdom of God in our midst.
So in our new reality, post covid, post religious institutions, but still continued cynical generations, as people of faith, we need to find a new measurement for our progress for lack of a better term. We need a new measurement which considers the intangible things which shape us into the people God created us and calls us to be…people of hope, people of justice, people of peace. As people of faith, we are invited to measure our lives, our ministries, our faith in love. Because in the words of the incomparable bell hooks: “Only love can give us the strength to go forward in the midst of heartbreak and misery. Only love can give us the power to reconcile, to redeem, the power to renew weary spirits and save lost souls. The transformative power of love is the foundation of all meaningful social change. Without love our lives are without meaning. Love is the heart of the matter. When all else has fallen away, love sustains.”
With all that in mind, this week, we are exploring the question “How Do You Measure Success?”. And we are looking at this question through the lens of the story of James and John, the two brothers who ask for prominent spots when Jesus comes into his Kingdom. This is one of those texts in the Bible which seems so easy yet is so difficult to live out in our lives as disciples. This is one of those texts which gets under our skin, especially when we realize that Mark is not talking to the disciples. He is talking to his readers with a clear message about who we are as disciples of Christ and how we are to live out our calling as such. In this text, Mark is holding up a mirror, confronting us with our arrogance, pointing out that as insiders, we should know better. This is one of those texts which challenges us to rethink, to redefine what it means to be a disciple of Christ.
Because you see, when Jesus talks about being a servant first, he is not talking in a sense of a feel good, sappy, do a good deed so we can feel better about ourselves type of thing. Rather Jesus is talking about servanthood within the context of his crucifixion and death. Jesus sets this conversation about servanthood in the context of giving up ourselves, giving up our egos, giving up our concerns only for ourselves and coming together as one, as recognizing our connection as community. Jesus sets this conversation about servanthood within the context of the cross, meaning that the author of Mark is challenging us to realize that there is allure to the narrative of power and success. And we find ourselves most vulnerable to this comfortable narrative of maintaining the status quo, this comfortable narrative of saying I pulled myself up by boot straps, why shouldn’t everyone else have to do the same, this comfortable narrative which tells us that there is not enough to go around, and if I share with you, then there will be less for me, Mark is showing us that we are the most vulnerable to this comfortable narrative of power and success when nothing makes sense anymore. sort like now.
When we find we have more questions than answers, when our very foundation feels like it has been knocked out from underneath us. When we are filled with unease. When this happens, we embrace this comfortable narrative of power and success and our instinct is to look for quick fixes and easy answers. Our first instinct is to find someone to blame, or worse yet ignore the larger context of the changes happening all around us, like James and John did with their really inappropriate question.
By setting Jesus’ conversation about servanthood within the context of the cross, Mark wants us to see that the disciples did not understand who Jesus really was. The disciples did not understand what Jesus’ mission was all about. The disciples did not understand the character of Jesus. And they would not understand what Jesus meant about servanthood until they had experienced the cross.
Now please don’t hear me say that I am advocating that we all go be martyrs for our faith. What I am saying is that Mark is challenging us to consider that Jesus has been telling us all along, that he has been showing us all along that faith is not about maintaining the status quo. It is about us bringing about the Kingdom of God for all of God’s people. And the powers that be will not like ti that we are challenging systems designed to oppress, suppress and dehumanize.
Jesus has been telling the disciples, telling us as his followers that we are called to a different way to be, that we are called to let go of our comfortable images of who we think Jesus so be and embrace the life changing, the life transforming power of the Kingdom of God.
Yet, just like James and John, just like the disciples, time and time again, we fall for the false narrative of this world which tells us power and might are the only way to get ahead, that yelling and screaming at each other are the only way to get what we want, that belittling and devaluing others is the only way we can feel better about ourselves. And the sad thing is I’m not talking about the fact that these things only happen out there. They are happening in communities of faith right here, right now, in our community, in our state, and in our nation as well as happening all over this world. We are not immune from this whole conversation of thinking we know what Jesus meant when he talked about servanthood in the Bible only to ignore it when it comes to practicing in our real life.
This whole conversation about servanthood, this whole invitation to measure our lives, our ministries, our faith in love, through love comes back to understanding that the Kingdom of God doesn’t play by our rules. It doesn’t play by our expectations.
Jesus reminds the disciples, reminds us that success looks very different in the Kingdom of God. Success in the Kingdom of God looks like the selling of what we own, and giving the money to the poor. Success looks like following Jesus to the cross. Success looks like for “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,” May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, February 26, 2023 – How Do You Measure Success? Mark 10:35-45.