Rev. Katherine Todd
Psalm 104: 1-9, 24, 31-35
Mark 10: 35-45
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 31-35
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment.
You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
you set the beams of your[a] chambers on the waters,
you make the clouds your[b] chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
you make the winds your[c] messengers,
fire and flame your[d] ministers.
You set the earth on its foundations,
so that it shall never be shaken.
You cover it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they flee;
at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in his works—
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord!
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Again we find ourselves between juxtaposed images.
In the Kingdoms of the world, those honored are lifted up and, all too often, as Jesus says, they are tyrants over the people. But Christ’s way is opposite. Those who want to be great must be a servant, and those who wish to be first must be slave of all.
Now Jesus makes this statement in response to James and John’s request to be seated on Jesus’ right and left in his glory.
Did they know what they were asking of Jesus? Did they believe Jesus would claim a throne of the world? Were they vying to secure their authority when he came to power? Or did they comprehend that Jesus’ Kingdom would transcend this world? Could they have imagined that Christ’s Kingdom would be won in death and suffering, in Jesus’ pouring himself out as a ransom for many??
It is doubtful they could have seen what was to come – or even began to imagine it. And Jesus’ response conveys just that: “You do not know what you are asking…” Not only did they not understand what this Kingdom would be, they also did not realize that those positions could not be granted but only prepared for what appears to be those most deserving. Putting their request into perspective, Jesus asks them whether or not they can drink the cup that he himself will drink and be baptized with the baptism that Jesus would be baptized. But continuing in their blind overconfidence, they answer, “We are able.”
Indeed, the disciples James and John cannot comprehend the implications or qualifications of their brazen request. But Jesus does not shame them. Rather he seeks to answer their question of how they might advance themselves in God’s Kingdom, reminding them of his own purpose, because Christ’s own life and purpose are the measure, and Christ came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Now this brings us to our Psalm. This is a long Psalm, so we didn’t read the whole thing, but there in the final verse there is that uncomfortable line that reads, “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.” This kind of prayer in the Psalms, these sung prayers, is not uncommon. In other Psalms, we read, “Oh God, that you would slay the wicked.” And taking it much further one Psalmist rejoices in this gruesome and brutal defeat of his enemy writing, “Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks.”
Now, I am sorry to even speak that Psalm verse. It is distressing and disturbing.
And these sorts of verses are what have many disillusioned and even disgusted with Christianity.
I will not defend those verses.
But I want to discuss them with you. Because Christ has changed our entire worldview. Christ shattered all our understanding of how the world works. Christ broke open the dividing wall between good and evil, heaven and hell. When Christ died on that cross, history recorded that the veil between the holiest of holies in the temple and the outer court was torn in two. More than symbolic, Christ made a way! Christ bridged the gap! Christ poured himself out as a ransom for many!
And this was a worldview shift.
Before, people understood some as good and others as bad. There were the wicked and the righteous.
Much of our Old Testament texts read this way – black and white – good and evil.
And while good and evil are real, Christ’s teachings to us revealed to our darkened minds that no one is without sin. No one does good. No one is righteous.
Only Christ. Only Jesus.
And so for all this talk of good and evil, there is no way to wholly be on the side of good, without Christ’s ransom.
But people were and are desperate to be rid of the ravages of sin and evil. We are desperate to overcome our societal and personal sins. We are desperate to be rid of evil-doers. We are tired of the loss of life. We are tired of exploitation and oppression. We are distressed that bad things seem to happen to good people! We are weary with the blaming. We are weary with the bickering. We are weary from the pointing of the finger.
We yearn for justice! We yearn for wholeness!!! We yearn for eternal life – meaning that QUALITY of life that makes our lives worth living!!!
And we are not unlike those who came before Christ.
But without Christ’s bridging of this divide, individual and society imagination could not conceive that God would care about the wicked, much less come to save them and give his own life as a ransom for them! This was inconceivable.
And so folks yearning for justice and life and healing, prayed the prayers they could imagine: “Kill the wicked,” “Let the wicked be no more,” and “I’ll be so happy when my enemies and their children are dust and I don’t have to keep looking over my shoulder anymore!” Limiting God to their own imaginations, they prayed that God would do the only thing they could imagine – getting rid of evil-doers – wiping them out so evil would be no more.
And God, who encourages us to pour out our hearts before the throne of grace, heard these prayers.
Was it the kind of hearing that automatically grants a wish?
Was it the kind of hearing that does whatever is asked without regard for the other?
Scripture has made it clear that ALL are made and beloved by God. Christ said that he came in order that all might come to knowledge of the truth – not just some.
God loves all. Christ came for all.
And that was a major worldshift. God cares for all.
But this was exactly what we all needed. Despite our efforts to do good, we were sinners too. Despite our good intentions, we sinned blindly and ignorantly. And we needed a God who would see past our checkered reality and love us anyway.
NOT condoning sin
NOT excusing sin
But loving us WHILE we were sinners and calling us to a better way…
Christ condemned sin WHILE loving the sinner.
And that is life to us all – to all who will receive it!
I am glad that we are a people who think for ourselves and question the kind of passages like these from the Psalms that seem so heartless or violent. Let us also keep in mind that we are able to IMAGINE other ways because of Christ, of whom our Old Testament ancestors did not have the benefit of knowing when they wrote these words.
But nonetheless, in these Psalmist’s angry and sometimes small words, we can relate to their cries for justice. And we know that we are not alone in our wishing for evil to come to our enemies.
But in Christ we are shown another way.
No one is beyond Christ’s reach, not even the most hardened.
And so may we,
in our living
and our relationships
and in our communities
and in our policies,
remember that Christ came to save sinners, and that we are all sinners, except by the ransom of our Lord Jesus Christ, who came that ALL might be saved and come to knowledge of the truth.
As James and John’s ambitions were redirected to find their stature beside the measure of Christ’s own life, so may our lives take their shape and purpose from Christ’s. For we are the light of the world and the salt of this earth AS MUCH AS we are indeed following after Christ in our day by day lives.
How often do we, still today, wish for the destruction of our enemies? How often are we fantasizing of another’s downfall? What delight do we take in retribution? As easy as it is to point the finger, we need to get honest with ourselves about our own secret desires and prayers.
Christ – who ALONE is without sin and has every right to be angry and every right to condemn us – Christ chose the radical and costly path of love and forgiveness.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
Following after our Lord Jesus Christ,
may we too
the radical and costly path
of love and forgiveness
Not living as those in darkness – failing to comprehend the expansive love of God –
But living as children of the light
And working and praying that ALL might be saved
And come to knowledge of the truth.
Thanks be to God for the radical, incredible, costly love of God for us, in Christ Jesus!