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Related Bible reading(s): Mark 10.35-45

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Up-to-the-minute jumping-off points for sermons, linking the reading to the latest news and global issues

Blame it on…?

This week’s Gospel reading challenges us to reflect that ‘We are all in this together’ (Mark 10.35-45), rather than find convenient targets for blame.

Context

  • UK politics seems to have become increasingly adversarial in style. So, the cross-party comments made last week after the sad death from lung cancer of the Tory MP and former minister James Brokenshire were quite remarkable – e.g. Keir Starmer’s remark, ‘James Brokenshire was a thoroughly decent man, dedicated and effective in all briefs he held. He fought his illness with dignity and bravery.’ Several people referred to the kindness which accompanied his effectiveness, and how he simply worked to get a job done without wanting the spotlight to rest upon himself.
  • The story told by the report published earlier this week produced by the Commons’ science and technology and health and social care committees, offers a rather different take on how politicians can behave. This cross-party document describes the UK government’s response to the COVID crisis as being ‘one of the worst public health failures in UK history’. The whole story of the governmental response, certainly to the health care aspects of the crisis, seems to have been undergirded by the desire of individual politicians not to accept any blame or responsibility for themselves, but ‘Blame it on…?’ A.N. Other. There has also been a strong whiff around of what has been labelled ‘chumocracy’ in choosing firms to offer equipment and services during the crisis.
  • Perhaps ironically, COVID seems in its turn to function as the ‘Blame it on…?’ excuse to ‘explain’ current shortages and problems that, personally, I feel were entirely foreseeable results of the UK’s decision to leave both the EU and EFTA.

 

Reflection and ideas for a sermon, talk or conversation

There is an aspect of that ‘Blame it on…?’ syndrome at work in this week’s Gospel passage, Mark 10.35-45, which seems to reflect the internal squabbles and jostling for power among Jesus’ inner group of disciples. The ‘Blame it on…?’ syndrome is perhaps even more obvious in the parallel account in Matthew (Matthew 20.20-28). Matthew’s alteration to what I consider the earlier version in Mark both amuses and infuriates me! For in Matthew’s account, it is now the mother of James and John rather than the two brothers themselves who ask for the privileged seats in Jesus’ kingdom. The increasing respect paid to the ‘holy apostles’ as the first Christian century ran its course meant that it became unthinkable that a couple of them might have personally made such a crass request…so ‘Blame it on mum!’ Typical!

I once wrote a short reflection on that, which began humorously, but ended up – deadly seriously – by pointing out that Jesus’ words about the ‘cup’ in response to the request lead us eventually to Gethsemane, where James and John also figure and where Jesus prays ‘Remove this cup from me, yet not what I want but what you want’ (Mark 14.16):

Blame it all on Mumlinked to Matthew 20.20-28
That’s right – blame it all on Mum! Mothers have a lot to answer for
(Or at least their children tell them so).
James and John must have been quite a handful:
‘Sons of thunder’ no less, but she loved them still.
She didn’t know what she was asking –
Else she would have sealed her lips tight shut.
For top places in an upside-down kingdom,
Require us to sit at the bottom of the table,
Waiting til everyone else has been fed.
Ah well, at least they can still drink from the cup –
Yes, that one which Jesus himself quaffed,
One night when they waited with him in dark Gethsemane
And found it difficult to stay awake. 

It is I think no accident that this episode of squabbling among the disciples is both prefaced and concluded by a reference to the ‘Son of Man’ (Mark 10.33,45). This third person description on Jesus’ own lips has I believe a corporate dimension to it. That was widely accepted by previous generations of biblical scholars. Even though the idea is less popular today, it seems to me that the clear link between the phrase and the Hebrew idiom for a ‘human being’ (see, for example, older translations of Psalm 8.4) means that this aspect should not be ignored. In referring to himself as ‘Son of Man’ in this way Jesus was inviting his disciples – and eventually his later followers throughout Christian history – to become part of a new humanity in which service rather than privilege was paramount, and in which a deep sense of ‘we are all in this together’ replaces the aspiration to find someone else to be the scapegoat and a convenient target for our blame. One of the results of the increasing awareness of the climate crisis is, I believe, a gradually dawning awareness that ‘we ARE all in this together’ and that playing ‘the blame game’ is both fruitless and ultimately counterproductive. ‘Together’ we need to work for solutions that will benefit us all, as well as the fragile globe on which we live. At least I hope so!

 

Questions for discussion

  • How far do we reflect the ‘blame culture’ in our personal lives, and in our corporate lives as a church? There is a delicious poem, ‘Blame the Vicar’ by John Betjeman which ironically encourages people, ‘it gets the trouble over quicker, to go and blame things on the Vicar’. Even though it is written from a very Anglican perspective it packs a telling – and wider – punch.
  • What changes are needed to help us express ‘We are all in this together’, in our communal lives as members of a church, as people of the United Kingdom and as human beings in our world today?

After retiring from her work as the coordinator of the office of Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in early 2018, Dr Clare Amos now finds herself surprised (but not unhappy) to have been invited by the WCC to help with the induction of a newly appointed colleague in the department in the coming months and to prepare for the WCC’s forthcoming Assembly.

  

Check-in

Connecting faith with everyday, real-life issues for young people

With a dark fake tan, braids, and ghetto-type lyrics, Jesy Nelson’s ‘blackfishing’ (trying to appear black) was all over the news this week.

But why does it matter? Shouldn’t black people be flattered that others want to emulate their culture?

Well, here’s the thing… you don’t get to flirt with being black. You can’t just take the look without living the life. You don’t get to embrace the highs without also identifying with the lows. To put it bluntly, you don’t get to have it all – the best bits of being white and the best bits of being black. You need to recognise who you are and accept it all – the highs and the lows, the heritage with the history, the colour with the context.

Jesus makes the same point in this week’s passage. James and John want all the glory of being in God’s kingdom: of sitting next to Jesus in heaven and going down in history. But they have no idea what that really means. To share Christ’s glory, they must also share his suffering. They want the highest honour? They’re going to have to pay the highest price.

Are you embracing everything it means to be a Christian? Are there aspects of being in God’s community that you shy away from? What can you do about that this week?

Lucy Carman is a freelance writer and editor and also works as the Office Manager at her local Anglican church.

 

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