How to Be Great Again
21 October 2018 – Lectionary 29/ Proper 24
We can be amazed at the innocent cheekiness of James and John when they say, “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you” (v 35). Jesus asks of them what that might be, and we begin to reflect how like James and John we really are, how like them our society is. An element of self-interest. . . is a presupposition of all interactions.
The disciples of Jesus are to be different, finding greatness in a different way than the world finds it, not in power, status, and wealth. . . The only greatness is in service as spirit and truth, for its own sake, not for position or gain.
Service does not obligate God and Christ to give special rewards. Service is not a means to a separate end, but is realized in a vision of the heart of Christ and of humanity restored to a working relationship with God. That in itself is a goodness and participation in the graciousness of God that is its own end, the fruit of service being the reward and the joy of fulfilled goodness, a human destiny worth having. –– John E. Smith
These verses . . . [describe] Israel’s redefinition of self-understanding, role, and character on the eve of postexilic reforms. With that in mind, it’s important to remember, as we read this later portion, that the song begins on an exultant note: “See, my servant shall prosper; he shall be exalted and lifted up . . . very high” (52:53). In our part of the song, the reason is given for liberation. “He has borne our infirmities . . . the iniquity of us all” (53:4–6). That God’s servant suffers silently on behalf of all the people leads us to the willingness of his suffering for the sake of others. Therein we see purpose. Judgment and justice are satisfied, and the will of the LORD prospers.
Again the song returns to the purpose of the servant, which is to restore, lift up, make possible. He will see the fruit of his suffering and be wholly satisfied. Not only does the servant offer himself silently as an intercession on the behalf of many, but it is an effective intercession, adequate to the need. . . This becomes a powerful picture . . . in the context of the people of Judah returning from Babylon to reinterpret themselves, their relationship with God, and their mission. –– John E. Smith
Jesus is a high priest, being of the order of Melchizedek, different from the Aaronic order. . . Jesus’ superiority to the Levitical priesthood is first seen not in its “once for all effectiveness” but in the Son’s learning obedience through suffering. . .
Melchizedek’s significance must stem partially from the fact that he is from God Most High (Genesis 14:20) dealing directly with Abram effectively and without benefit of Levitical tradition or later establishments. Melchizedek denotes an immediacy and intimacy with God, who says to Jesus, “You are my Son,” that is, singular and superior to the Levitical priesthood. –– John E. Smith
John E. Smith has served as a Methodist pastor for many years.
Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 76-88.