The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r141.htm
s141g97 19/10/97 Somerton Park Sunday 29
"For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." Mark 10:45.
This particular verse is the basis for what we know of how Jesus saw the effect of his dying on the Cross for humanity. The verse is also remembered by Matthew (20.28) and there is an echo of it in the parallel passage in Luke. However Luke does not write of Jesus using the word "ransom". John recalls Jesus' words about giving his flesh for the life of the world (6.51), the good shepherd laying down his life for the flock (10.11) and the master giving himself for his friends (15.13). Each of these is an allegory of the Cross, but is this word "ransom" which gives us a clue to the mechanism - to how the Cross becomes effective in God forgiving my sins 2000 years later.
To ransom or to redeem is in the technical parlance of the pawnbroker. When one is financially straightened to such an extent that the normal sources of loans are not prepared to advance one money, the only other option is to take one of one's possessions to a pawnbroker. The pawnbroker will advance the person a percentage of the object's true worth. When the situation is eased, the person then returns to pay the pawnbroker the money advanced - plus a percentage - and so redeems or ransoms the object.
So returning to Jesus, the cross pays what we owe because of the things we have done wrong. The verse, as a summary of the character and purpose of the ministry of Jesus asserts the voluntariness of the act as a deliberate sacrifice of self. It asserts the costliness of it. It asserts that it is done in place of many, which the many could not achieve for themselves. And it does not deny that it is actually for all (1 Jn 2.2). (after FJ Taylor A Theological Word Book of the Bible ed Alan Richardson p187).
However as a picture of how Jesus enables us to be at right with God, the idea of redemption has some shortcomings. One is just who is paid. We are not, before redemption, owned by the Devil. If God pays himself, it is a nonsense. This brings us to the realisation that human imagery cannot serve us completely when dealing with divine matters. If God pays back himself, surely God can determine the price, and surely that could have been less costly than death on the cross.
Actually "redemption" and "ransom" words are used in a religious slight of hand to try to reconcile how a righteous God can accept sinful humanity. In the end the metaphor is unacceptable for we are making much of one word and forgetting the context in which it is placed.
For the reality is that for the most part Jesus came to be served - he came and accepted the offerings of all and sundry. The whole opposition to Jesus was not about anything he taught, but that he sat down and ate with sinners! Jesus cuts through all the religious nonsense of how a righteous God can associate with sinful humanity, and simply does it. His whole ministry is supported by wealthy women out of their means, he accepts the invitation of Simon the Pharisee and Simon the leper. He would have sat down and ate with the Gadarene demoniac, had that unfortunate person had anything to offer him, in that desolate place of the tombs to which he had long before been banished.
The Church however has stressed the service that Jesus offered, most often the ministry of healing. We stress the good things that Jesus did, the miracles he wrought, and forget that he never contributed to the cost of any of his own or his disciple's meals. We too quietly forget that he associated with everyone, including the "hoi-polloi".
Jesus' idea of service is not to help other people but to accept them as they are and accept what they offered him.
The Church has for centuries been the great helper of other people. We have been strong and powerful, helping the week and the poor. In South Australia, the Churches have provided the education for the elite. We are happiest when there is someone else in need and we can help out. But when do we as individuals accept help from others? I as much as anyone else find myself very uncomfortable when I am placed in that situation. In fact, if my own natural instincts are any guide, I would do almost anything else but place myself in someone else's debt. Yet Jesus did this all of the time.
His constant focus was how can the person he was dealing with be magnified rather than him.
So the Churches message to the world has been "Look at your needs" - "Jesus is the answer to your need". I am not at all surprised that as a gospel of evangelism this is spectacularly unsuccessful. The plain and simple thing is that the last thing you or I would admit to is that we needed something to someone else. If we don't know our needs or if we did, we wouldn't admit to them - so why should we expect anyone else to know or admit to theirs either?
The whole mind set that the Church or we have got something to make other people's lives more fulfilling, more moral, or more loving, is fatally flawed. The Church imitates Jesus by accepting the offerings all and sundry offer, because we want to show our acceptance of all people.
Jesus served most frequently by being served.
We as the Church are not the repositories of the holy God, too holy and too afraid that the divine might be contaminated by ordinary individuals. God goes before us. As Jesus spent his ministry travelling Palestine visiting one and all, we too will find God out there - in our own day to day lives - out there blessing our attempts to do right, blessing our attempts to love, as we serve and as we accept service from others.
In Exodus, when Moses encounters the Lord in the burning bush (that wasn't burning), God speaks to Moses: "Take off your shoes for this is holy ground." In my way of thinking and I guess in your way of thinking, if it was holy ground, surely God would have said to put his shoes on. But God wants not separateness but contact, intimate contact.
Our whole being balks at this intimacy. I am again reminded of the "Church Scout's Prayer Book" which states that "Every scout behaves to his girlfriends as if Christ were watching him; and he only goes about with girls whose goodness and purity remind him of the Blessed Mother of our Lord." (p58) We are so very hung up about intimacy and sexuality, we cannot conceive of a God who approves of our halting expressions of intimacy. If Jesus was raised on that Easter morn so long ago to become an eternal Peeping Tom - spying for the Almighty - checking on just who is being intimate with whom, or on our baptismal or marriage credentials, then that god is sicker than some people I know.
We as the Church want to be Jesus to the world, the healers, the providers, the powerful and important people. Jesus didn't even use his own food for the feeding of the 5000 - but some food he accepted from someone else. We, the Church want to explain what Christianity is all about, and in doing so we fail to do as Jesus did and would have us do - accept ourselves and others as we are.
"For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many." The essence of Jesus giving his life, is to show us that he had no need to appear great in anyone else's eyes. The cross is the eternal rebuke to our wanting to magnify Jesus, and without knowing Andres Serrano or his motivations for depicting the cross as he did, it does seem as if he has touched a raw nerve. I suspect that we have sanitised the cross and ignored the shame willingly endured, by our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Of course we are not left just with the Cross - the resurrection shows us that the sort of life Jesus led is not defeated but eternal. The resurrection is not a return to the worldly conceptions of power and status over others, but an assurance that the ministry of touching people's lives and accepting humanity continues - despite our and humanity's efforts.
May we see in "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve" permission not to see ourselves as better, permission not to try to get others to believe in the same terms as we do, permission to be ourselves - offering our gifts to God and humanity and receiving the good things God and humanity have to offer us, and finally permission for others to be themselves - for the good news is surely that others don't have to live up to our expectations.
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