In the Gospel reading for the fifth Sunday in Lent (Mark 10:32-45), we read of Jesus again predicting his death to his disciples. However, his disciples are not hearing him. They are thinking about who of them will be the greatest, who will sit on the right and on the left.
From the disciple’s perspective Jesus is invincible. Jesus has power over demons and sicknesses; power over blindness, deafness, leprosy and epilepsy; power even over the sea, the wind and death itself. Jesus is invincible. He had even shared some of this power with them, and they themselves had healed the sick and cast out demons. For the disciples, Jesus is none other than the Messiah come to save God’s people from evil and unjust oppression. God was on their side, it was manifest, how could Jesus’ talk of rejection, betrayal, scourging and death be anything but yet another parable that they don’t understand?
God is on our side. We’re going to win. Let’s start planning the seating arraignments for the victory celebration.
But Jesus tells his disciples that they don’t know what they are talking about. They don’t realize that the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of God both in heaven and on earth, is nothing like the kingdoms of this world. There is no ruling over in the Kingdom of God. There is no authority over in the Kingdom that Christ establishes. But “among you,” among the disciples of Jesus, “the greatest is the servant of all.” This is the way of God’s Kingdom, this is what it is like to have God on our side.
Certainly, after the Ascension of Christ, a certain structure entered the community of the disciples. There were overseers and elders, bishops who were first and bishops who were second and third. This structure and use of authority in the Church is necessary, but should not be confused with the Kingdom of God. Similarly, at various times, certain groups of people, cultures, governments and nations have embraced Christ and done what they could to Christianize their structures, ways and relationships. This is good, it is great, but it is not the Kingdom of God. Structure and authority are necessary in the realm of this life, but God is with us not to vouchsafe life as we know it, but rather to lead us into the life of the Age to come. God is on our side to lead us to His side.
Jesus has makes it pretty clear that having God on your side does not mean things are going to work out as you suppose. Having God on your side means that you are the servant of all. Having God on your side means that you live not to be served but to serve and give your life for many. Having God on you side means not using your power to blow away your enemy. Having God on your side means that death is not the end, so suffering has a meaning, maybe even a purpose. Having God on your side means that you win, but you have to lose everything first.