The Text: Mark 10:35-45
A few years back there was absolute uproar on the streets of London. Emergency services were inundated with calls, Members of Parliament were contacted by angry citizens, and social media went into meltdown, with some even claiming this was a sign of the apocalypse.
What was the calamity that sparked such frenzied panic?
It wasn’t terrorism, rioting, or financial or political collapse. It was a shortage in chicken supply throughout the UK, which meant more than half of Britain’s 900 KFC stores had to be temporarily closed. You know when an event is truly catastrophic in the minds of the public when people attribute its own hashtag to it—in this case: ‘#KFC Crisis’. Helena Horton of the Telegraph reported: “Frustrated chicken lovers resorted to contacting their MPs and calling the police” resulting in the Essex police posting this statement on Facebook:
“999 is only to be used for an emergency where someone’s life or property is at risk. KFC not having any chicken is not an emergency and is not a police matter.”
In the meantime, KFC were bombarded by angry customers on social media telling them to get their act together—or words to that effect. It seems that it was their right to have KFC whenever they wanted it…and their right to really vent their fury when they couldn’t have it.
This might all seem hilarious, but there’s a lot about this issue that’s also deeply disturbing. The perceived personal right to self-service can be expressed in very harmful ways and when a person’s right to what they want becomes the basis for a society’s moral code, it can have devastating consequences.
When the Queensland Parliament passed laws decriminalising abortion a few years ago—including full term abortion—the decision was reported as “historic” and progressive. Queensland’s Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad said: “The right of women to control their own reproduction, their own bodies, is such an important part of equality in our society. To prioritise the rights of a fetus [sic] above that of a woman is something that I find offensive.”
Other state jurisdictions have passed similar legislation. From a human point of view, there may be understandable reasons why an abortion may be sought, but legislation in the name of equality actually promotes inequality. Psalm 139 teaches us that every individual is unique and has the same worth, dignity and purpose God ordains for us as his creation of us in his own image, whether a foetus or an adult. God knits each person together in their mother’s womb with intricate and purposeful detail, so that they are fearfully and wonderfully made by him; and he appoints all the days of every person before one of them came to be. He has given the 5th commandment by which he expresses his will that all people be protected and cared for and helped in all their physical needs.
But this legislation is a new commandment that legislates against equality—one that views the children impacted as less than human— ‘just a foetus’—whose value and worth in life is not, as God says, in their own being as his creation, but which is dependent on the estimation imposed by others, on how useful, or wanted…or unwanted others deem them to be.
It is ironic that in the name of rights, the rights of these unborn children have failed to have been upheld. Who makes a choice for those who are unable to choose for themselves whether they should live or die? May God have mercy on those who preach from the social pulpit that this is about equality and rights and choice.
Yet before the church can claim the moral high ground, we need to recognise that we are also not exempt from the problem of deciding what our rights are and insisting on them. That self-focus has been part of all human beings ever since Adam and Eve replaced God’s will with their own in the Garden of Eden and bit off more than they could chew. It’s been a problem for the church from the earliest times, as today’s Gospel reading shows. Two of Jesus’ disciples, James, and John, came to Jesus and said: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked. They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” (verses 35-37).
How human of them to ask Jesus for this self-indulgence in positions of prominence without first considering what his will for them might have been.
Power, glory, self-indulgence, rights, the demand to decide what human needs are and how that can be met has all resulted in the most sinful actions within the church. On the 22nd October 2018, the National Parliament in Canberra, our Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a national apology to people who were sexually abused as children in institutions, including in the church. This apology was a major outcome of the 5-year-long Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Shocking for us is that the Commission identified the Lutheran Church of Australia among the churches that need to acknowledge their past failures to provide children with adequate protection from sexual abuse.
As we hear and reflect on that, perhaps there are several emotions within us. Perhaps one of the immediate thoughts is shock and outrage that such evil could happen within the very body of Christ, the very place where refuge and care for all people is supposed to happen. Why has this happened? Why does any form of abuse continue to happen not only for children but all people in the church?
God shows us that his will for relationships is one of good order within which there is consideration, and service, and care and love for one another. In Ephesians 5 & 6 Paul says that children are to obey their parents in the Lord, for this is right, and is also for their own blessing, for honouring one’s father and mother is the first commandment with a promise—that their life on the earth may be good and long. Fathers are not to exasperate their children; but encourage them as they bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Workers are to serve their employers as if they were serving Christ, not merely other people, and employers are to treat their workers in the same way. Paul says: Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favouritism with him.
Wives are exhorted: “submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” But too many husbands have left aside Paul’s next words: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Just as Christ gave up his life, Husbands are to love their wives not by demanding their own way but by dying to themselves— putting to death their sinful selfish motives and desires that results in all kinds of idolatry and physical, sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse—because God has called husbands to be his instrument of blessing to their wife. Paul explains that this is the order God has established through which God brings blessing and he summarises all of this by saying that the church is to submit to its head, who is Christ.
Whether it is expressed through demands that emergency services re-establish a supply of KFC, or in the manifestation of the most extreme forms of abomination, the natural human condition of focusing on its own will and desire for self-service, demanding our rights, whatever we perceive those rights to be—without concern for how that might exploit the most vulnerable—is sinful human will, but it is not God’s will.
God’s will is completely opposite to the ways of our world’s thinking of chasing after greatness and personal rights and choice at the expense of others. It is to die to ourselves and serve others, rather than lording it over others. Even if we are in leadership positions, we are to seek to do what we can for the benefit of others rather than our own.
Jesus does not just say that his people are to serve others, but he goes even further and says: whoever wants to be first must be servant of all. We are to see ourselves as last of all, and willingly to do what is needed for the benefit others. God’s will has always been to rescue us from this enslavement to the human desire for power and greatness. The only way God could do that was by sending his only Son. Jesus says: For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
We’re not just talking about a really good guy here. This is God…who didn’t wait for us to serve him, but who came down from heaven in the person of Christ to serve us. He experienced the full brunt of human abuse when he was mocked, beaten, whipped and crucified. He did this out of love for all people, to rescue the world with the only satisfactory ransom price to pay: his own holy and precious blood. He did this for all people—the outcasts and socially shunned, the tax collectors and sinners, the most insignificant in society; the frail and vulnerable, the disabled, and even those who are living but are yet unborn.
He did it for those who cannot see past their own self-importance, those who are sinned against and abused, and those who are abusers themselves, who cannot fix what is broken within and are incapable of stopping themselves hurting others. He laid down his own life for those who do the most evil and reprehensible things, and even for those who would reject and mock him as he hung from a cross. All these Jesus put before himself.
Jesus put us before himself, too. In fact, he put himself last, when he ransomed the world humbling himself to the point of death, even death on a cross. Then he claimed us to be his very own in baptism, where he brought all the benefits of his saving work to us personally.
Jesus who gave his own body on the Cross for the life of the world, through simple bread gives his body to us. It is the meal by which Jesus proclaims that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” It is the meal Jesus gives to his church as a proclamation of the foretaste of the feast to come, where we, together with all his people, will see him in glory. Then there will be no more worry about who will have the places of prominence, for we will all have a room in our Heavenly Father’s mansion, and Jesus our Saviour will seat us all at his table at the places he has reserved for us as his special guests. Amen.