Jesus Confronts Conflicting Kingdom
by Thomas H. McAlpine
During recent workshops with
community leaders and World Vision personnel in Chile and Bolivia,
we read together Mark 10:32-45. In this passage Jesus foretells his
death and resurrection for the third time (verses 32-34), and James
and John ask to be allowed to sit on either side of Jesus in his
glory (verses 35-45).
The results of our reading this
passage together were surprising for me. I had been used to working
with verses 35-45 alone, with the result that the latter part of
verse 45 ("and to give his life a ransom for many") had
seemed a little extraneous. Working with the expanded unit (verses
32-45) showed greater coherence and spoke more powerfully.
A useful starting point for any
study is recognizing the borders of the text: Where does one start
and stop? For narrative, borders often are signaled by changes in
place, time, or actors.
In the Mark 10:32-45 text, verse
32 identifies the place. Later, verse 46 signals a new location
(Jericho). Within verses 32-45, there are no signaled shifts in
place or time.
Within the passage, a nice
symmetry of actors signals four moments.
- Verses 32-34 Jesus speaks to the Twelve,
sharing the prediction of his passion for the third time.
- Verses 35-40 Jesus responds to James and John
who requested, "Let us sit at your right and left."
- Verse 41 The ten become indignant over the
- Verses 42-45 Jesus tells the Twelve, "The
Son of Man came...to serve."
The transitions between all but
the first two moments are obvious. The request of James and John in
verses 35-40 prompts the reaction by the ten in verse 41. That
reaction prompts Jesus’’ response in verses 42-45.
The continuity from verses 32-34
to verses 35-40 is less obvious until we recognize that the subject
matter may be the same - what is about to happen in Jerusalem. Jesus
and the disciples have radically different expectations. The
disciples’ expectation of Jesus’ kingdom and glory prompted by
James’ and John’s request.
Jesus responds to their request in
verses 42-45 by contrasting the conduct of those who are
"great" or "first" in society with the conduct
he expects of the disciples. It is here that taking verses 32-45 as
the unit, rather than verses 35-45, becomes important.
We already have met the rulers and
great ones in the persons of chief priests in verse 42 and the
scribes in verse 33. We have already seen what lording it over and
being tyrants looks like with regard to what awaits the Son of Man
in Jerusalem. Thus Jesus’’ response in verses 42-45 does more
than offer us an abstract pattern. It reminds us of the realities
that are shaping the story.
Jesus’ response identifies the
pattern common to the predicted conduct of the chief priests and
scribes and to the actual conduct of James and John. Put
differently, Jesus does not need to journey to Jerusalem to meet
this pattern; he already is encountering it among his own disciples.
And if he meets it among them, how much more likely is he to meet it
in Jerusalem. Thus James and John unintentionally have testified to
the likelihood of the fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction.
Jesus response to his disciples
identifies two societies: one of death (oppression, tyranny, the
death of innocents such as Jesus) and the one of life (service and
resurrection). The narrative frame (verses 32-45) for this response
makes it clear that not only the rulers and great ones (verse42),
the chief priests and scribes (verse 33) but also the Twelve (verses
35-41) are members of the first society mentioned.
This provides the context for
understanding why Jesus "came to give his life as a ransom
for many" as expressed in the latter part of verse 45. Everyone
from the chief priests down to the humblest disciple is trapped in
the society of death and is in need of ransom.
Sometimes we talk about the two
societies Jesus refers to in this passage as though they were two
alternatives existing more or less independently. when we put
Jesus’ comments in the context of the entire passage, a more
dynamic picture emerges.
Here the kingdom of life comes
into being in the midst of the kingdom of death, with the frontier
marked by Jesus’ self-giving - and by the self-giving of his
followers. When we read the passage as a
whole, we find that Jesus ups the ante with regard to patterns of
leadership. It no longer is simply a matter of following Jesus’
The narrative frame makes it clear that to opt for
society’s way of using power is to align oneself with the chief
priests and scribes in Jesus’ death and with their modern
equivalents in the deaths of too many innocents.
Thomas H. McAlpine, "Jesus Confronts
Conflicting Kingdom Views," MARC Newsletter, # 99-1,
February 1999, p. 6.