Dates: October 14th and 17th, 2021
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm: Psalm 91:9-16
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:35-45
Gospel: Mark 10:35-45
Have you ever argued with your sibling about who gets to sit in the front seat when driving somewhere? Or maybe you have witnessed this type of argument with your own kids or your grandchildren? Calling shotgun feels like a time-honored tradition, and as a kid there is something powerful about getting to sit in that passenger's seat up front with the driver, perhaps the ability to help choose where to go for lunch. It may just be a seat in the car, but it is as if the whole view of the world is different when you get to sit in that specific seat. The seat is coveted not only for its power, but also for its rarity, there is only one seat up front with the driver. Our Gospel passage for today also brings in talk of some special seats. There is even anger from some disciples when some among them asked for those seats first. Or put another way, when James and John tried to call shotgun in the kingdom of heaven while speaking out of turn, the other disciples were ready to argue.
Many people might read the story today and focus in solely on the way that the disciples are seeking power and authority in this passage, and gloss over the depth of how Jesus responds. Jesus does not get angry with the disciples for asking for these seats, nor does he completely avoid the question itself without providing some sort of answer. Instead, Jesus tries to get the disciples in this passage to understand that the authority that they understand as coming from the seats of power, is not the way that power and authority work in God's kingdom. Humanity has its own understanding of what it means to be in power; we can look at many different forms of government systems, and yet none of them truly form a good comparison for what power looks like in the Kingdom of God.
Jesus recognizes this view of humanly power by referencing the Gentiles, those among them that are not Jewish. He explains that their understanding, which in their time was also a wider societal understanding, was that the ones on the throne were the most powerful, and had authority over everyone. So then, those who were on either side of the seat of power also possessed great control in their society. But Jesus says that this is not the way that it should be among us, as Christ-followers. Our call is not to a place of overall power, but a place of service to one another. Community is the basis for Jesus' teaching here, and although leadership in community is important, as Christians we cannot believe that leading is only about who has the most power, rather than about who is serving their neighbor.
This passage does not lift up these human created places of authority and power, and instead invites the disciples to open their minds to new ways that power is shared by those who serve one another. Rather than fighting over these coveted seats in God's Kingdom, Jesus is telling them to place themselves in opportunities to serve others, instead of their own motives. It is important to note that this passage's message, though important in the grand scheme of forming Christian community, has also been used in harmful ways. It has been historically used to justify oppression, especially in silencing people of color, young people, and women. People in these categories have been told that they are created only for the role of servant or slave, and then that role is presented as a holy, sacred position, ordained by Jesus in passages like this one. This creates systems that deprive those who are assigned “serving” roles from opportunities and leadership positions, all in the name of supporting their Christian call to service. These systems then work to encourage those not stuck in these servant roles to take on leadership or garner power and authority in ways that are counter to Jesus' message to the disciples in this passage. So, what does that mean for us as Christians, in a world full of complicated identities, living in a society that values power and authority?
I think it means that we get to be counter-cultural, and find ways to lift up the voices of those who have historically been separated into the “servant” or “slave” category of this passage. In amplifying these voices our communities get to go from silencing to supporting, and those who have been stuck in the servant stereotype get to go from limited to leadership. Our earthly communities will never measure up to the true Kingdom of God that awaits us in glory, but we get to work toward that Kingdom of God every day. In fact, we pray for that. We pray for God's Kingdom to come to Earth as it is in Heaven. In doing so, we pray for an end to seeking power for power's sake, we pray for an end to ways that people are systematically forced to only be servants, and we pray for an end to our own ignorance of these realities that create a division between the world we live in and the one God calls us to live into.
The disciples may have been asking for the authority that comes from seats of power, but Jesus' reply tells us that the power was never in the seat at all. Instead it was in the community itself, growing from the opportunities we take to serve one another, and thriving through the uplifting gifts that have been given to each of us. If we again consider that age-old argument over the shotgun seat, maybe next time we can think about it differently. Instead of wondering who asked first, or deciding who is most worthy that day, we get to ask questions like, who has not sat up front recently? or How can the rest of the car be given opportunities to make decisions like those in the front seat? By doing so we live as Jesus calls us to in today's passage in ways that are counter-cultural, so that whether it is the shotgun seat in the car or larger systems of authority in the world, we get to serve one another in love and dismiss the idea that power can only come from those who got to sit in the right seat. Thanks be to God.