Sunday, October 21, 2012


Homily for Proper 24 Year B 2012
Jesus had a particular way of being in the world--a pouring out of himself for others. Once, referring obliquely to himself but directly to God’s plan for us all, Jesus said,
"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The many, not the few.

Jesus had read the suffering servant poem of Isaiah.

He was despised and rejected by others; a man suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.  Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

        He said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom.”  He trusted that God uses innocent suffering, to redeem the world.  It is not the power of the sword, but love made eloquent in suffering that transforms the human heart and saves the world.
A ransom indeed.
Jesus’ words reveal his hope, however bright or faint, that suffering, even his own suffering, might be used by God for the greater healing of the world. He said:
Greater love hath no one than this, to lay down one’s life for a friend . . . .

And this:

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit (John 12:24).

And this:

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many.

Welsh poet R.S. Thomas wrote, “The Coming.” In the poem, he imagines a conversation going on between God and his son.  God shows him the world, a small globe in his hand. The son looks and sees a troubled world; then he sees a bare cross and many people holding their thin arms out to it. The son says: “Let me go there.”
            At some point, at many points, I imagine Jesus having that kind of conversation with God.  And, over and over again, Jesus said, “I will go there.”  At his baptism, in the wilderness, when he saw the tide turning against him, as he turned toward Jerusalem, as he entered into Jerusalem, at Gethsemane. “I will go there,” he said.
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.
Service is self-expenditure for the sake of others. Jesus says the losing of self, in self-expenditure for others, is the way of finding the true self.  The Apostle Paul speaks of "spending and being spent" in Christ’s name. To follow Jesus means to take on the character of his life. This character is the giving from your plenitude into others’ emptiness, from your fullness into their need. Whatever your plenitude may be, whatever their emptiness may be. There was this way about Jesus, a pouring out of the self for others.
Jesus set the standard by placing at the heart of our faith love that takes the form of a servant.  When his disciples were jockeying for power, Jesus said:

You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For the Son of Man also came not to be served but to serve. . .

Jesus reversed the meaning of power and authority in the world.

        At the Last Supper Jesus, wrapped a towel around his waist and, taking the house servant’s role, began to wash his disciples’ feet.  He became “The Help.”  Peter protested, “Lord, you must not wash my feet!”  Jesus replied, “Unless I wash you, you will have no part with me.”  Peter then in headlong, unabashed devotion said, “Lord, then wash all of me, my head, my hands!”
Then after the meal Jesus said,

A new commandment I give unto you
that you love one another; even as I have loved you,
that you also love one another.   By this all
will know that you are my disciples, that you
have love for one another.

It is a love that takes a servant’s form.  The general word for “ministry” and the word for “deacon” are the same in the New Testament Greek: diakonos, literally to go through the dust, as a waiter waiting tables, as an orderly emptying bed pans, as a servant washing feet.
It is difficult for we disciples to grasp his teaching.  It is hard to hold, not because it is slippery, but because it is hot.  It burns at our touch.  We want to drop it and drop it fast.  It does not have the desired feeling.
Jesus used the metaphor of a “Kingdom” (“Empire”).  They were an occupied people, ruled by the Roman Empire.  They knew what an Empire was.  They associated Empire (Kingdom) with power.  When Jesus said Kingdom, they heard King.  They said to themselves: “And, Jesus will be King of the Kingdom.  Jesus will be Ceasar of the Empire.”  
Power.  We are drawn to power.  You want to be close to power.  Who gets to be on the right side of the King?  Who gets to stand on his left.  Who will get to be the closest to King?
In God’s Empire, when Jesus is Ceasar, who, among the disciples, will be favored?
At their jockeying for place, for proximity to power, Jesus shakes his head and says, truthfully, “you don’t know what you are asking.”
They are thinking power and authority.  But, Jesus says, I’m not talking about the Roman Empire, the Kingdom of Rome, I’m talking about the Kingdom of God.  
“Yes, yes” they say.  “We know. And, when you come into your kingdom....”
Jesus says, “You don’t know what you are asking.”  
The greatest in God’s Kingdom is very different than the Greatest in Rome’s Kingdom.  “Trust me,” he says, “you don’t want to be the greatest in God’s Kingdom.”  It is not the sort of thing anyone would want.
But, they protest, “it is what we want.”  “Give us what we want.”
Jesus, as he often does, asks another question.  He changes metaphors.  Now, he speaks of bathing in pools of water and drinking from cups of wine.  “Can you” he asked “be baptised with me?”  “Can you drink from my cup?”
They eagerly answer, “Yes.”
Jesus loves them.  And because he loves them and because he knows they don’t know that for which they are asking, he sighs.  He knows that if they follow him, it will cost them everything.  He knows if they bath where he baths and drinks form his cup, they will pay the price--not sit enthroned in splendor.  So, he sighs, and tells the truth:  “its not mine to give.”  Jesus can’t choose it for them.  They must make their own choices.  
In the recent film “Loopers,” criminals send victims back through time to be killed by hit men living in the past.  One of the hit men gets sent back in time to a younger version of himself.  But, the older version escapes “the hit.”  So, the younger version finds himself in the strange position of having to chase and kill his older self.
But, like in all time travel narratives, actions and consequences get all mixed up and are difficult to disentangle.
There is a loop of violence in the film.  They are all caught in a seemingly endless loop, not only of time, but of violence.  Murder, killing, hit men, power, victims that later become perpertrators.  How will it ever end?  It is a circle--a viscious circle.
In a moment of insight, a moment lacking in our gospel story for today (for in our story, the disciples lack insight into what they are asking), our character becomes a most unlikely Christ figure.  He realizes that he can change the seemingly endless circle--if he sacrifices himself for the others.  He realizes that, not by using violence on others, but by allowing himself to be the victim, he can end the loop.  He can make a difference, but only if he gives up power, only if he is willing to suffer, only if he will give his life.
The film plays on the theme we have before us:  To be the Master in God’s kingdom, you must be the slave.  To be the greatest, you must be the least.  To save your life, you must lose your life.  It is a paradox full of irony.
There was this way about Jesus: A pouring out of himself for others. Once, referring obliquely to himself but directly to God’s plan for us all, Jesus said,
The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

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