The Bible is full of strange things—oil cruets and flour containers that never become empty and young bodies that are restored to life at a word from Jesus. Are we supposed to believe that these things happened? Maybe the ancient peoples did, but we moderns suffer under the curse of Bultmann’s lightbulb: we know why the light switches on. We are cursed by rationalities that prevent us from seeing the Bible as one overarching story in which our own lives play a key role.
One of my seminary teachers once said that if you can’t think of anything original to preach, you should tell Bible stories—they have enough power to turn people’s hearts toward God. This may not work with every text, but it certainly works with the drama and wisdom of the story of Naboth and the story of the woman who washes Jesus’ feet with her tears.
There they all stood, gaping at the blinding wonder of the temple wall and thinking about how magnificent it was. That is, until Jesus stunned the group by blurting out, "Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down."
While there is no royal family in the American political system, the political stars of our time exert royal power. We are very much the heirs of others who loved royalty—such as the elders of Israel who begged Samuel to appoint a king to govern them so they would be like all the other nations. But kingly rule does not come without cost.
I read this week’s lectionary passages last summer in the Urubamba Valley in my native Peru, and in my native Spanish: “Pero Cristo ya vino, y ahora el es el Sumo sacerdote . . .” At first I resisted the Hebrews passage, as I prefer Jesus’ concrete teachings to more abstract theological concepts. So, while leading a tour group across the Andes, I turned to Mark: “And man must love God with all his heart and with all his mind and with all his strength; and he must love his neighbor as he loves himself.”
I remember seeing Helena, a widow, unfolding a $20 bill to put in the offering plate. I knew that her family was selling its possessions to pay the ransom for her only son, imprisoned by guerrillas.
James and John McZebedee matriculated at my seminary again this fall. The “Sons of Entitlement,” I call them. They are usually—but not always—young and white in addition to being male. They have typically grown up in the church, attended Christian colleges and majored in religion. They like to refer to their mental index of Theologians Worth Reading and readily scoff at those theologians they have not read (and so are not worth reading).
This portion of the narrative is a continuation and expansion of what has just preceded. The other ten disciples are jealous, are angry with James and John because they have pushed Jesus—successfully—to give them a preeminent share in his destiny. Jesus has not criticized or dismissed their insistent demand but has lovingly transformed it from a desire for glory into a willingness to suffer. Still, why should some of the disciples be granted privileges over the rest?