The Beloved Community – Mark 10:35-45 Pastor Trudy Franzen
Ah, when the other ten heard what James and John had asked of Jesus, they were indignant. Indignant. Resentful. Indignation is a concept we are well aware of these days. Its that phrase, “who do they think they are?” speaking.
Who do these guys think they are?
The ten make a lot of assumptions about the motivations of James and John and for what they are actually asking.
In fact, we extrapolate more about what we think they want from the way Jesus responds. We think they want to be great. The ten may think that James and John want to be great. But what they say is, “let us sit at your right and at your left in your glory.” “Jesus, we want to be close to you. We want to be as close to you as we possibly can.”
Who doesn’t want to be close to Jesus? Doesn’t that change the way you think about James and John? Maybe the simply want to be close to him.
Maybe they did want glory and greatness. Maybe. Or maybe they just wanted to be as close to him as they could.
That is what we think the ten assumed and that is what many of us have assumed for years. They make the assumption that James and John think they deserve something that others don’t deserve. The ten are indignant. Who do those two think they are?
Think of a time in recent history when you were indignant. Resentful. Chances are, you saw something or heard something and you thought, “That’s not fair! That’s just not fair. It isn’t right. They are wrong. They don’t deserve it; they are not doing it right. They are not walking their talk.” Think about that last time you felt indignant. (This was an election week, so it is likely that you can think of a moment unless you were understandably hiding under a rock.)
For me, I am often indignant when someone is awarded a post or a position of power and I don’t think they deserve it. Maybe I think that someone else was more qualified or the only reason why they got the position was because of who they knew or their physical characteristics, like race, gender, and age. I make an awful lot of assumptions, usually in a matter of seconds. Before I even have time to process logical thought, my emotions are talking. I feel indignation, resentment, anger and it is righteous.
Because surely, I am right. I make a lot of assumptions, just like those ten disciples that day. And what Jesus says to me is helpful, as it was to them.
Whoever wants to be great, be deserving, be worthy, hey, even be close to him doesn’t get that way by lording power over other people. We don’t get there by judging others and deciding whether or not they are deserving by confirming our own biases and making grand assumptions. We don’t get to glory by being self-righteous.
Four moments in Jesus’ life we as Christians mark as his most glorious. And the funny thing, two of them in particular are very vulnerable, bloody moments.
We mark the birth the Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension as moments of greatest glory. His birth and his execution were the most vulnerable, most painful, most blood-and-sweat soaked. Most human.
And who was there in his glory? At his birth, common shepherds. Strangers. Working class, common people, probably men and women. And at his death, who was there at the cross with him? The women. The women, and at his left and right were common thieves.
James and John were not there. People with no status at all were there, the most unlikely of people were there. Those for whom the glory at been prepared were there at this painful, vulnerable moment supporting Godself with their love.
Jesus says that true worthiness isn’t wrapped up in indignation. It is wrapped up in servanthood.
The Greek word for servant that is used is the word “doulos.” Doulos. The cool thing about that is that we have a word in English that captures the essence of it. The word is “Doula.”
Do you know what a “doula” is? A doula is a person who accompanies another person who is in a moment of tremendous vulnerability and transition. The two most common moments are childbirth and death. Moments of unbridled transition.
There are doulas who help mothers and father give birth, and who also help the dying release their bodies and return to the Creator. It is holy, spirit filled work. Doulas accompany others in their most vulnerable, most difficult times. Yet these times are filled with the most meaning, too.
We usually think of servanthood in terms of who does the chores.
Who sweeps the floor and who unloads the dishwasher and buys the toilet paper. Shovels the dog poo. Who does the stuff that no one else wants to do. Somehow that has become Christian belief. Do you want to be great? Go sweep the floor. Get to work. There’s value in that, sure. But that’s just not being a jerk. That’s just being a part of community and not being selfish or lazy. It isn’t the servanthood that Jesus was talking about.
Those for whom the place at the cross was prepared were not doing chores. They were accompanying Jesus in his most difficult and vulnerable moments. Their work was not utilitarian, it was holy.
What is more, it is beyond imagination that God would let human beings minister to Godself. God did it at birth and God did it at death. God placed God’s very self in the care of human beings at the most vulnerable of times. God let us love him. God trusted us with God’s most terrifying moments.
Indeed, God did not regard divinity as something to be exploited, but rather humbled himself and took the role of the doula! God made Godself a doula, and God received the love of the doulas that surrounded him with gratitude. And God calls us to be doulas, too!
It isn’t about who does the heavy lifting and who does the chores that no one wants to do. It is about being vulnerable with each other and letting others love us. It is about being the Beloved Community. Loving and being loved.
Whenever you feel yourself getting indignant and saying, “That’s not fair!” pay attention. Something really powerful is happening. You are making assumptions about worthiness and greatness, and chances are you are missing vital information.
Just like James and John and the other ten, we will all have opportunities to be doulas and to have doulas love us in our most vulnerable moments. Look for those moments, because they are the most meaningful. They make the “who got the job” or “who’s doing the chores” distractions pale by comparison.
Last year about this very time, I was at one of the most vulnerable places in my life.
My mother had just died, my ankle had been broken and surgery done, a new pastor called and so much happening here at St. Stephen’s. We were at a very vulnerable place, too. But the Beloved Community was there. Imperfectly, as always. Of course, there were some missteps and awkward moments. There’s always challenges and growing pains. But we were doulas for each other, whether we fully realize it or not.
We were being fallible and human. Yet it is also paradoxically true that our human fallibility and lack of consistency and predictability is in fact an asset in disguise. When we can be doulas for each other in those moment of vulnerability, confusion and utter lack of clarity, together we discern a way forward as Beloved Community that we could never forge alone.
We are on the cusp of something great. There will be times that it will feel like failure. It will feel like giving up. It will feel like the end. But it will be a glorious beginning.
Remember the crucifixion. It felt, certainly, like the end of endings. The doulas were there. The thieves were there. Beloved community was happening under everyone’s nose. So also it is happening here. Under our very noses. Be careful. It might capture your heart, too. You might just be a doula. Amen.