Lectionary for Oct. 17, 2021
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Job 38:1-7, Psalm 104
Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

This week’s theme is humility. God asked Job where he was while God was creating the universe. Jesus counseled his followers that they shouldn’t seek prominence or positions of honor but should instead seek to be the servants of all. And finally, the author of Hebrews provides an insight into the relationship between Jesus and God. In every instance, humility is key in relation to God.

After (rightly) pleading his case before the Divine Judge, Job is in turn questioned by God, who asked him who darkens counsel by words without knowledge and then proceeded to ask where he was at the creation of the world. According to the epilogue, Job has argued his case correctly and said what is true about God (Job 42:8). But he simply doesn’t know what happens in the heavenly council or how God created the universe. Even when he is correct, Job speaks without full knowledge. It’s the enormity of God’s creative power that leads to a proper amount of humility before God. Job never completely abandons his case, but he does come to understand more fully before whom he stands.

The passage from Mark begins with James and John requesting to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he comes into his glory. Forgetting, for a moment, that it will be God who sits at Jesus’ left (as he sits at God’s right—Acts 7:55, Romans 8:34, Ephesians 1:20, Colossians 3:1, Hebrews 1:3 and 12:2), this request was still totally improper because people of the Jesus community are not to seek positions of power and authority but opportunities to serve (Mark 10:43-44). Greatness in the kingdom of heaven, which leads to greatness in eternal life, is in giving up power, wealth and authority while becoming a humble servant.

We should remember this in our dealings with potential leaders inside and outside of the church. Jesus’ example is of one who came to serve, not to be served. Those who seek power for ambition’s sake, rather than as an opportunity to serve people, aren’t working for the kingdom of heaven but for themselves. Such behavior, according to the biblical text, is exactly and explicitly anti-Christ because Jesus demonstrates and demands the opposite. Gaining power and authority for one’s own sake is opposite of the way of Jesus.

The way of Jesus is humble service to our neighbors and humble submission to God.

It’s not just with his disciples that Jesus demonstrated radical humility but also with God. He didn’t glorify himself in appointing himself to his Melchizedekian high priesthood but was designated as such by God (Hebrews 5:5, 10). Jesus reverently submitted to God, learned obedience through his suffering and was made perfect (Hebrews 5:7-9). If Jesus, as God’s Son, modeled such humble obedience to God, we who are God’s creation should follow him. Indeed, Jesus provides salvation to all those who humbly obey him in his submission to God (Hebrews 5:9).

The way of Jesus is humble service to our neighbors and humble submission to God. Of course, we still ask for what we want (Hebrews 5:7). But we also need to know that we aren’t God. If we are clear-eyed in our obedience to our master, Jesus, we will celebrate the shunning of power, wealth and authority, and rejoice at opportunities to serve others. In so doing, we live Christlike lives.

It should be said that this is a difficult word for many to hear, especially those who are already downcast and oppressed in various ways by the power of the state, patriarchy, white supremacy and other systems that rob and degrade. Jesus’ ministry and gospel must always be good news for the poor and freedom for the oppressed, or it is not his ministry (Luke 4:16-21). Jesus announced freedom, but also did not overthrow Rome, the colonizing power oppressing his family and friends. Rome killed Jesus, after all. Jesus didn’t advocate armed struggle against evil. Instead, he advocated humble service that undermined the coercive power of systemic evil (Matthew 5:38-41).

Christians are called to imitate Jesus in demonstrating how humble service can be a powerful witness of the inability of oppressive systems to conquer and dehumanize those who embrace the humble messiah.

Cory Driver
Cory Driver is an ELCA missionary serving as the director of graduate studies at the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Cairo (Egypt). His book on wilderness spirituality, Life Unsettled, is available from Fortress Press.

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