A Ransom For Many
Ordinary 29 Year B
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Mark 10: 35 — 45
The setting for our text follows an intense encounter with a man asking Jesus what he must do to ensure he inherits eternal life with no hitches on the way. The message from Jesus to him, and to all His would-be followers was:
“You can follow me into eternal life but not without the right
attitude that all things and all possessions are actually God’s
— you have the use of them only as a gift from God and not as
of right. If material possessions mean so much to you that you
can’t follow me, then they have become your idol. You had
better get rid of them!
In the present text Jesus goes on from possessions to status, authority and power. His teaching is, again, clear and demanding, yet sensitively presented. We should note that in the few verses preceding our text, Jesus again predicted His death. This is, we recall, His last journey to Jerusalem. He loved the city of Jerusalem and the High Festivals of Israel. The Gospel account reflects both His joy and His sadness as they all move towards the place where the final events are to take place.
Some Reflections on the Text
Verses 35 — 40
Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him and
said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we
ask of you.”
He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?”
They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one
at your right and the other at your left.”
Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking.
Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism
with which I am baptized?”
They said to him, “We can.” 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 or at my left is not mine to give but is for
those for whom it has been prepared.”
The text does speak for itself. However due to changes in culture and custom, it can help if we paraphrase and comment to bring out some of the hidden understandings which, though obvious to those present, could be misunderstood by us today.
The scene opens with James and John (the Sons of Thunder, Jesus called them), waiting their chance to say something quietly to our Lord without the rest of the twelve hearing. Their request is something like: “Rabbi, we want you to agree to do a favour for us, exactly as we ask”. Our Lord, ever the tactician, replies, “Well, don’t you think you had better tell me what it is before I can make a promise to you.”
Catching the moment, the two brothers come out with what is on their minds. “When you take up your throne of power and dominion, let us sit each side of you.” This, of course, is preposterous and utterly absurd.
Before we get too carried away in our righteous indignation, let’s pause to recollect what this question, or rather request, indicates. These two men were part of our Lord’s ‘closer’ circle. Not long before this incident they had witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus: a very special honour indeed! Now we see them requesting formally, the pre-eminent places of honour and authority in the forthcoming reign of Jesus. (Batcher and Nida) This request indicates a growing depth (though not without problems) in their thinking ― they are at the forefront of the coming of the Glorious Kingdom which will last forever. Jesus is undoubtedly warmed by their super-confidence in and acceptance of, who He is. But they need a little “taking down a notch or two”.
How enthusiastic, yet all too human they all are. How arduous is our Lord’s task in having to shape leadership in His Church with people like this! But He is supremely patient. (Just as well, for our sakes also!)
The response of Jesus is very composed: “You have no idea what you are asking. Will you be able to persevere when you have to undergo all the same suffering I endure?”
Supremely confident in their own ability, the two disciples give an instant and emphatic reply, “Oh yes of course we will!” Jesus calmly reflects for a moment and then accedes: “All right, you shall indeed endure the same suffering as I do. However, the matter of allocating positions of honour is not for me to decide. What my Father has determined is not to be questioned. I must affirm His appointed order and not even begin to think of altering it.”
Gerard Sloyan has a valuable comment on this text:
Jesus is quick to point out that he who desires the end desires
the means, but of the latter they are totally ignorant. He is
already taking a draught of the cup of suffering. Will they be
equal to it’? Can they endure being literally drowned in pain?
Their confidence is answered with the prophecy that they
shall have their wish.
Jesus promises grief and tribulation like his own. He cannot
so readily dispense glorification, for like the day of his parousia,
it is a matter hidden in the eternal counsels. Only the Father
knows how he means to reward the various players in the
drama of salvation.
(Note: “parousia” ― second coming. Itallics ours.)
We need to remember that the reference to baptism (in the text) by Jesus had a slightly different application from our use of the term (though obviously connected). Jesus meant, “Can you be submerged, buried in the hatred, pain and death which I am to suffer?” When they insist they can, Jesus approves and prophetically declares they shall! He did not however necessarily imply that they will suffer martyrdom.
Jesus did mean, nevertheless, that they must be willing to accept it if it is their lot. During the next 300 years, many of the first Christians suffered the most terrifying forms of martyrdom. Thus it was the whole of the early Church which bore witness to our Lord’s prophecy. We have no sure evidence of how James and John in our text died. Our equally reliable sources seem to conflict a little in this matter.
Verses 41 to 45
When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James and
Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those
who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them,
and their great ones make their authority over them felt.
But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be
great among you will be your servant;
whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and
to give his life as a ransom for many.”
If anyone had a right to be indignant, it was, of course, our Lord. As is His custom, since His disciples are “in training”, He decides to use the opportunity and drive home a subject they have already covered in their intensive training (and will do so again, and again).
In rabbinic style Jesus “summoned them”. This is a technical term indicating He was convening an intensive session of in-service training.
The reaction of the ten to James and John is so very human: they exaggerate their own indignation as though it were the perfect model of purest piety. In other words, they are just as prone to pride and self promotion as the other two. Somehow Jesus has to deal with two factions who are equally at fault.
J. C. Ryle has a helpful explanation:
It seems that the ten were much displeased with James and John,
because of the petition which they made to their Master. Their
ambition and love of pre-eminence were once more excited at the
idea of any one being placed above themselves. Our Lord saw
their feelings, and like a wise physician proceeded at once to
supply a corrective medicine. He tells them that their ideas of
greatness were built on a mistaken foundation. He repeats with
renewed emphasis the lesson already laid down in the preceding
chapter: “Whosoever of you will be the chiefest shall be servant
of all.” And He backs up all by the overwhelming argument of
His own example: “Even the Son of man came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister.”
J. O’Flynn makes a similar comment but emphasises our Lord’s constant warning that His disciples must resist reflecting the world’s values. It has to be the other way round!
“The Apostles will have authority in the Church, but in the
exercise of that authority they are not to imitate rulers and
high officials who rule tyrannically and arbitrarily in their
own interest. Rather they should make the service of those
entrusted to them the ideal of their office. In that way they
will imitate ‘the Son of Man who came not to be ministered
unto, but to minister’. In these words Christ states the purpose
and redemptive value of His death.”
A little theology on “redemptive value of His death”.
J. O’Flynn comments that the Greek text (lutron anti pollon) means a ransom. In these times a ransom was paid by someone who could do so on behalf of others, to set them free. In our Lord’s teaching, the Greek term used is actually to describe a Hebrew concept.
Christian text books sometimes give long explanations of the need for gaining forgiveness for evil done, the need to appease God by reparation and payback.
Our Lord’s emphasis is on making “atonement“, i.e. “restoration“. Thus He talks elsewhere of “redemption” and “salvation“. Our Lord’s focus here is saving “many” (which means all, not just some) from evil ― from slavery and thus, bondage to evil.
Our Lord’s teaching in this matter drew heavily on the image of the Hebrews being released from slavery and bondage to the Egyptians. That is the essential understanding.
Thus the words of Jesus in verse 45, “to give His life as a ransom for many” means Jesus was to give His life as a price of redemption: the emphasis being on saving His people from evil and restoring them to their true relationship with God. He links together both His service and giving His life as a means of achieving our restoration. We also need to note that Jesus is very clear that His act of redemption is for all mankind. No one is excluded from the benefits of His sacrifice.
Once again Jesus imparts a critical understanding to which his followers must hold fast: “By all means desire to do great things, but do them in God’s name to serve the real needs of people. Some of you will be given a desire to take the top positions, and that will be a holy thing to choose. But remember it must also be a desire to serve without looking for acknowledgement, appreciation, or personal gain. For even the one you follow came to serve in this way, and ‘to give His life for the ransom of many’ — to bring God and humanity together.”
“If you want to be great,” says Jesus, “then serve!”
The Glenstal Bible Missal has a very fine statement summing up our passage:
The true disciple can aspire to only one thing: to share the
passion of his master. As for the reward, it eludes every possible
claim. God is free to do what he likes with his gifts. The Christian
likewise will have his share in the condition of servant which
was that of Jesus: that is to say, he will participate in the life
and death of Jesus ‘for others’. For true Christian greatness
consists in serving, and not in playing the master.
The two passages Mark 10: 17 — 30 and 10: 35 — 45 show our Lord dealing with the subject matter of two great foundation principles of the Kingdom of God: possessions and power. Jesus understands how hard it is for his followers to have a spiritual as opposed to a materialistic outlook. His gentle approach encourages us to review our attitudes without fear, and to seek God’s help to measure up. Only then will we reflect the true image of God’s Kingdom which should shape the world about us instead of it being the other way around. That is one of the things he taught us to pray about every time we attend worship, or hold it in our homes, for he taught His disciples, “When you pray, say:
Our Father in Heaven
Hallowed be your name
Your Kingdom come.
Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven …..”
A very large number of Christians hardly ever say this prayer which He gave His disciples as their very own. That is tragic as it contains all the values He wants us to uphold, as well as the strongest antidote to all the worldly influences which threaten to overwhelm us at every step of the Way. Let us pray it together for one another. Often!
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Proclaim the Gospel to Every Creature
(Mark 16: 15)
Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in
A Ransom For Many
Ordinary 29 Year B St. Mark 10: 35 to 45
1. Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.
Jesus encourages us to take an interest in being leaders and having authority. These ambitions are commendable, as far as our Lord is concerned. He asks, however, that we foster these dreams with the intention of serving the people in a way which displays His values and principles. We do not need to be afraid that we can’t do it. His command is His promise to enable and empower us to do so.
2. Jesus honoured His two close friends who got carried away with a little selfish ambition, by declaring He would permit them to share in His Passion: “The cup that I drink, you will drink.” In one way or another, we all seem to need to learn this lesson: the way to glory is through hardship. St. James and St. John learnt to commit their whole lives into the hands of Jesus and share thereby, in His sacred passion and death. They accepted enormous hardship and shone as powerful beacons of light to all who were seeking to follow the crucified Messiah. It just goes to show that if we accept His redirection in our lives, we can reach what we never dared to dream about — even in this life.
3. Jesus said, He came, “to give His life as a ransom for many“. The reference, “for many” is not meant to be taken as meaning, “for a lot, but not all”. In this context it is meant to convey that ‘no one’ will be excluded from the freedom Jesus earned and continues to share with all who would receive it from Him.
We, as His earnest followers, need to remember that there is no one on the not-to-be-evangelised list! Every good deed directed at serving the needs of others, physical as well as spiritual needs, will be blessed by Him. Our powerful text of Scripture assures us of that, provided we act in the spirit of loving service aimed at meeting the genuine needs of others.
Mark 10: 35 ― 45
Ordinary 29 Year B
35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him
36 He replied, “What do you wish (me) to do for you?”
37 They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit
38 5 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are
39 They said to him, “We can.” Jesus said to them, “The cup
40 but to sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but
41 When the ten heard this, they became indignant at James
42 6 Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know
43 But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes
44 whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.
45 For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve
5 [38-40] Can you drink the cup . . . I am baptized?: the metaphor of drinking the cup is used in the Old Testament to refer to acceptance of the destiny assigned by God; see the note on Ps 11, 6. In Jesus’ case, this involves divine judgment on sin that Jesus the innocent one is to expiate on behalf of the guilty (⇒ Mark 14:24; ⇒ Isaiah 53:5). His baptism is to be his crucifixion and death for the salvation of the human race; cf ⇒ Luke 12:50. The request of James and John for a share in the glory (⇒ Mark 10:35-37) must of necessity involve a share in Jesus’ sufferings, the endurance of tribulation and suffering for the gospel (⇒ Mark 10:39). The authority of assigning places of honor in the kingdom is reserved to God (⇒ Mark 10:40).
6 [42-45] Whatever authority is to be exercised by the disciples must, like that of Jesus, be rendered as service to others (⇒ Mark 10:45) rather than for personal aggrandizement (⇒ Mark 10:42-44). The service of Jesus is his passion and death for the sins of the human race (⇒ Mark 10:45); cf ⇒ Mark 14:24; ⇒ Isaiah 53:11-12; ⇒ Matthew 26:28; ⇒ Luke 22:19-20.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible,