Ordinary 29 Mark 10:35-45
Video available on YouTube, Facebook
When our sons were young they played a game called “shotgun” whenever we went out in the car. The person who got to the passenger door first and said “shotgun “got to sit in the front passenger seat. I was bewildered why would they wish to sit in the most dangerous seat in the vehicle and more importantly why would they want to sit next to me, the most tense driver you can possibly imagine. Nevertheless each time we went out shotgun was played, no matter how many times I explained the negative side of winning this game.
While reading today’s verses from Mark this memory came to mind. Jesus and the twelve disciples are on their way to Jerusalem and Jesus was trying to prepare the disciples for what lay ahead of them when they arrived in Jerusalem. This was the third occasion that Jesus had predicted his trial, suffering, death and resurrection. They were not listening or at least not comprehending what he is trying to teach them.
Jesus’ ministry has been one of boundary breaking: challenging the Empire, the religious purity system and the patriarchal family system. Jesus’s ministry through actions of inclusiveness to those on the margins and his vision of “God’s empire” was totally different to the world they lived in and there would be a consequence for that. The Empire and religious ruling class could not allow this subversive behaviour to continue and Jesus was aware of what would be happening to him in Jerusalem.
He was a radical, nonviolent egalitarian who associated with those on the outside of society, those who had no power or recognition in the social structure of the day.
James and John sons of Zebedee the fisherman who Jesus calls “Sons of Thunder”. They are zealous and hot headed, they ask Jesus in Luke to rain down heavenly fire on a Samaritan village that refuses Jesus its hospitality. Their request was not out of left field they had faith in Jesus believed in him and his message and wanted to support him. Their request was not unusual nor was the reaction of the other ten. The request of James and John brings to light our natural desires to be approved of and rewarded in worldly terms.
Tom Bissell in his book “Apostle” suggests that Jesus’ reply to their request, “The cup that I drink you will drink”, appears to be predicting that the Zebedee brothers will die as martyrs. There is an early tradition that John, like his brother James was martyred. However what happened to James and John in reality is lost to history.
Following James and John’s request Jesus goes into an explanation about the leadership style of the Gentiles and his style of servant lead leadership. I found an article that talks of nine common leadership styles including: transformational, transactional, autocratic, bureaucratic, charismatic, laissez-faire and servant leadership. I have certainly experienced a number of the above in my own working career and have always found the autocratic and bureaucratic style a demotivating practice as opposed to transformational or servant lead environments.
Currently worldwide we have some very autocratic leaders such the President of the United States Donald Trump or the leader of Russia Vladimir Putin to names just two both have sections of their societies struggling to survive while they appear to live lives not dissimilar to the Emperors of Rome who Jesus was challenging and was crucified for.
We have a world in climatic crisis with one of the most powerful leaders determined that this crisis doesn’t exist. Famine is being experience in the Middle East due to the ongoing conflicts in this area. We have a world crying out for a leadership style that offers caring, compassion and social justice.
The Markan scholar Chad Myers says of the Gospel of Mark: This story is by, about, and for those committed to God’s work of justice, compassion and liberation in the world. The gospel of Mark is accepted by most biblical scholars has being written around 70CE. This was during a period of violence in Israel the Roman Empire had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted anyone who was opposed to their imperialism. The followers of Jesus where in disarray, who would lead them now may have been a constant question among these survivors. Was this gospel from Mark for them! Mark’s Jesus was not suggesting that the leadership would be transferred from the top down. He was not handing out the privileged positions like an emperor or patriarch would. Mark is saying that leadership belongs to those who learn and follow the way of non-violent subversion, and who are prepared not to dominate but to serve and suffer as Jesus.
I would like to share with you an example of servant lead leadership that I was part of four very short weeks ago.
The Auckland City Mission after nearly forty years moved from 140 Hobson St to 23 Union St a move that we had all anticipated with dread. However it was such a smooth transition not a break in any of our services with the exception of the Calder Health Centre that did close for two days and moving a medical practice is no mean feat. In the weeks preceding the move our deacon Wilf Holt personified diakonoshe worked like a slave! Wilf wasn’t the only one, from the City Missioner down to our client committee everyone worked together to move the Mission. The hours worked by everyone were amazing and the spirit of positivity was astounding, a spirit of aroha abounded. The planning was meticulous we had instructions for packing and labelling boxes and each team had a timetable to work within all the while still supporting our clients. On Friday the 21stof September we served our last evening meal at Drop In (140 Hobson St) and on Saturday the 22ndwe opened our new Haeata at 23 Union St.
Our leaders worked as servants more often slaves. I am not sure that Chris Farrelly or Helen Robinson ever went home in that last week. There is a delightful picture of Helen cleaning the City Mission’s iconic sign after it had been taken of the Prince of Wales before its relocation to 23 Union St. This is an image epitomising the style of leadership that Jesus was talking about.
In our new location our practice of service has also changed and has been greeted with respect and we have been able to offer dignity with our service which our old building and work practice precluded. There have been little teething problems nevertheless they are not insurmountable and the Mission is busier than ever at our new site.
Jesus brought a radically new kind of leadership into the world. Everywhere he went, he sought out the lost, the forgotten, the ignored, the shunned, the broken, and those most in need.
Servant leadership is unselfish, not concerned with what we can get out of it, but solely concerned with how someone else can be lifted up. Many servant leaders never make the headlines, but they make a difference in people’s lives.
Jesus’ call to servanthood as leadership is offered to each of us as disciples of Christ.