Albert Einstein dies and goes to heaven, only to be informed that his room is not yet ready. “I hope you will not mind waiting in a dormitory. We are very sorry, but it’s the best we can do and you will have to share the room with others,” he is told by the doorman.
Einstein says that this is no problem at all and that there is no need to make such a great fuss. So the doorman leads him to the dorm. They enter and Albert is introduced to all of the present inhabitants. “See, here is your first roommate. He has an IQ of 180!”
“That’s wonderful!” says Albert. “We can discuss mathematics!”
“And here is your second roommate. His IQ is 150!”
“That’s wonderful!” says Albert. “We can discuss physics!”
“And here is your third roommate. His IQ is 100!”
“That’s wonderful! We can discuss the latest plays at the theater!”
Just then another man moves out to capture Albert’s hand and shake it. “I’m your last roommate. I’m sorry, but my IQ is only 80.”
Albert smiles back at him and says, “So, you want to talk politics?”
Today, it is very beneficial to know what is happening just before and after our Gospel reading so that we can more clearly understand what is taking place. Just prior to it we read from Mark’s Gospel: “They [Jesus and the disciples] were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’”
It is then we have our Gospel from today: James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And so on.
Where were they headed on the road as they had this discussion? First they would make a brief stop in Jericho and then continue on to Jerusalem. What happened when they entered Jerusalem? It was the triumphal entry, what we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Knowing this tells us that Jesus would be crucified in less than ten days and so when Jesus was talking about his death, the disciples were talking about politics: who is going to get to be boss? I suspect that the other ten, when they get angry at James and John, are really just angry with themselves for not thinking to ask Jesus for the seat of power first.
None of them are understanding what is about to happen even though Jesus just told them plainly he would be killed. (It is very easy to wonder at how dense these disciples could be, but the truth is, we wouldn’t have done any better.) When Jesus told them about all that was to take place, perhaps they didn’t want to hear it or believe or maybe they were hearing it as just another parable. “Maybe all this talk about being arrested and condemned and death is just another parable and how many times have we not understood those… this is just another example. He doesn’t really mean he’s going to die.” For whatever reason they failed to understand the climax that Jesus was bringing them to, so instead of truly hearing and comprehending, James and John catch up to Jesus and say, “Hey, JC, let’s talk about how we’re going to govern this place once the new boss is in town.” They want to sit on Jesus’ left and right when he comes into his glory, but what they don’t understand is that Jesus will come into his glory when he is lifted up on the cross and those who are chosen to be at his left and his right are two thieves who would be crucified with him!
No. Jesus is not going up to Jerusalem to simply replace the current political system with another. This has been tried time and time again and each—no matter how good they are to begin with—are eventually corrupted. Jesus is about to do something new and far more radical. Jesus is about to love the world in a way that it has never been loved before—”Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”—Jesus is about to die, to become the servant of all, so that we might be ransomed from death and the devil. Jesus’ words and action were and are very political, but not in the simple and small ways we think of politics. They are words and actions that transcend all others, for they are not about temporal politics, but eternal politics, and the political parties involved are heaven and hell. And, like James and John, when we attempt to make Jesus about anything… anything… other than that, then we are attempting to co-opt him for our own benefit.
So with that in mind, how do we live out lives that express the love of Christ on the cross? Saint Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians said that when he came to see them that he “decided to know nothing… except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” Can we do the same when we are out and among others and in our daily lives? Can we place the cross, that great love of Jesus, at the center of everything we do? Is it possible for us to subject our wills and plans and desires to that one singular event? How do we do this? Well… this is where this sermon may become a disappointment, because I don’t have an answer. I can say to you, “Put the cross of Jesus at the center of your life,” but that’s not going to help you. It wouldn’t help me either, because I’m still trying to learn what that means for myself. So today, I’m really just asking you to think about something: think about how in this world of ours you individually and we corporately can live out the death and resurrection of Jesus. How can we live out a life that is as radical as his? And, in thinking on that, what are your concerns or fears in doing so? Can you overcome those obstacles? Are they even real? Finally, in trying to answer these questions, remind yourself that it isn’t about you. It is about God. Remind yourself that within you, you cannot accomplish it, but with God all things are possible. Remind yourself of the words from that first “hymn”you ever learned:
“Jesus loves me! This I know,
For the Bible tells me so;
Little ones to Him belong,
They are weak but He is strong.”
Remind yourself that this is about love and nothing else.
I believe that God wants to move in this place. I’m asking for your faithfulness, prayers, and help in discerning how that is. How I am going to love like Jesus loved. How you are going to love like Jesus loved. How we are going to love like Jesus loved.
Let us pray: We offer You, Lord, our thoughts: to be fixed on You; our words: to have You for their theme; our actions: to reflect our love for You; our sufferings: to be endured for Your greater glory. We want to do what You ask of us: in the way You ask, for as long as You ask, because You ask. Amen.