The dispute among the disciples arising from their aspirations for greatness in Mark 10 begins with a request posed by James and John to Jesus, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you” (10:35).
Before we get too critical of them it is important to be reminded that they had left everything—their fishing business, family responsibilities, all other commitments—to follow Jesus. Now they are looking for some reward.
The question reflects, perhaps, where most of us begin the spiritual journey. Many of us come to God out of our need or want or some deep longing for meaning and for what is real. Sometimes we come to God out of our desperation. The bottom line of the gospel is that most of us have to hit some sort of bottom before we begin the real spiritual journey.
We always need God—God’s forgiveness, grace, and provision for life. But if we are to grow and become more of the persons God longs for us to be, then we must move beyond preoccupation with our wants and needs. Sometimes our needs are too great due to circumstances beyond our control. God understands. But for many of us whose basic needs are met, we must move on to the next stage of spiritual development.
In Mark 10, Jesus is lifted up as our model and means for real liberation. After Jesus rebukes the disciples for coveting positions of power and prominence, calling them “to be servants of all,” he says, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom [model or means of liberation] for many” (10:45). Jesus is our model for true freedom and liberation as the quintessential, archetypal human being.
The conversation James and John have with Jesus clearly reveals that these two disciples (as well as the others) are preoccupied with rewards and benefits. Their focus is turned in on themselves. They are still enslaved to selfish desires and passions and personal aspirations for greatness.
There is a wonderful scene in the movie, Becket, where Becket, after spending several years as a libertine, living strictly for his own pleasure and advantage, assumes the office of Archbishop. In the process of divesting all his earthly goods to the people gathered in the cathedral, he looks up at the image of Jesus over the altar and says, “You are the only One who knows how easy this is! Everyone else thinks it is difficult!”
That is true liberation. But how can it possibly be easy? Didn’t Jesus say to the disciples after the wealthy official walked away, unwilling to part with his earthly goods, “Children, how hard it is to enter the
Herein is another of the paradoxical tensions of the gospel. kingdom of God
It is hard because Jesus’ call to relinquishment runs counter to all the desires and expectations we are socialized into. We are taught from childhood to be competitive, to compare ourselves to others, from which process many of us determine our worth and value. We are conditioned to aspire for position, power, and prestige, to consume and acquire more and more—it is the American way. It is a real struggle to break free from such constant and pervasive conditioning.
True liberation brings rest to the soul, but we enter into true freedom only after we have struggled with our little, ego-driven self and its insistence on its own importance and greatness. Our recognition of and contention with our spiritual bondage and captivity precedes liberation. The struggle points us to the Son of Man, the fully liberated one, whose life and Spirit lure us into the realm of freedom from these entanglements.
We begin to enter into the liberation of Christ when we no longer feel the need to prove anything, when we get to that place where divesting ourselves of our goods and relinquishing the need for position and power comes easy and natural. We want to give back to the world. We want to get rid of unnecessary baggage and live more simply. We find joy in living simply so others can simply live. We need less, so we can give more of our resources and invest more of ourselves in relationships and service that enhance the lives of others.
At this stage in our spiritual evolution God becomes so much bigger. God is no longer the small, punitive, tribal God we once imagined God to be. Now we see God through a wider, more expansive and gracious lens. We discover a God who loves all God’s children, not just those who are like us or embrace our particular faith or doctrine or way of life. We experience a relationship with God that empowers us to live gratefully, generously, joyfully, and lovingly with all God’s children. We experience a new respect for creation and reverence for all of life. We begin to see how silly so many of our disagreements and disputes are.
Jesus, as Son of Man, leads us into such a life of liberation and freedom. He embodies for us and teaches us what it means to be truly human and to live an abundant and good life.