Sunday, 18 October 2015

Week 29 (Year B) Sunday -- 18 October 2015

Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45

The choice of readings heightens the dissonance between what Jesus is trying to teach the disciples and how they are still misunderstanding things. He is the servant of the Lord who gives his life as an offering for sin. He is the Son of Man who came to serve and not to be served. If the second reading offers a title, 'great high priest', that seems to invite glory in a worldly sense, such an interpretation is quickly dispelled: he is our great high priest precisely because he has been tested in every way though he is without sin. Jesus' way is not about becoming a 'great one' who can then 'lord' it over others. It is about a lordship, of course, but of a different kind. The Son of Man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

The notion of 'ransoming' has caused problems in the course of the Church's history: if Jesus gives his life to ransom us, to whom does he give it, why is it required, and what exactly is the ransom? We cannot just ignore the idea since we find the term, or versions of it, meaning either ransoming or redeeming, in Matthew, Mark, Luke, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, and 1 Peter.

The biblical authors, unlike later theologians, focus on the redeemed and the ransomed, the great fact of human liberation achieved by Jesus. He is our redeemer and our ransomer. That liberation is from slavery and exile now understood spiritually in the first place: our alienation from God is overcome. The sacrifice of our great high priest address the root-causes of oppression and injustice, it is an offering for sin.

The content of his teaching, the content of the whole New Testament, is not firstly a doctrine or even an example that would remain somehow external to us. The content of his teaching and of the New Testament, the new covenant itself, is Jesus himself, the Son of Man and Son of God who loves the Father simply and completely, and who is obedient to the Father in serving the purposes of God for the salvation of the world.

We do, of course, continue to misunderstand, and will seek to manipulate even the throne of mercy, the grace of God. We translate it back into the language of exchange and power. Much of the drama of the Church's history is its continuing struggle with this misunderstanding. But the Word of God reminds us that we are wanderers in need of teaching and guidance. We are confined in various ways, subject to powers that limit our freedom and distort our understanding. We have been set free for a new life by the one who became our servant, taking on the condition of a slave but becoming the mighty champion who leads us through the heavens.

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