Proper 20 – Series B
The preacher may want to connect this with the Epistle lesson from James today. We want to avoid the idea that what we preach is another form of self-help. Quite the opposite. James is helpful because in his very optimistic word for the hearer he is crushing us. In the first Law/Gospel dynamic above I want to really hit home the idea that we are fundamentally incapable of change, but God is not powerless before our stubborn and broken human nature. James can be optimistic, but you should notice at the end of the passage that it is God who is doing all the heavy lifting here. Jesus sets up a brutal standard for us. He asks us to compare ourselves to his own love. The honest Christian cannot but find that he/she comes up lacking in that comparison. We do not do that. But the Holy Spirit of Jesus, the same Spirit who was poured out on Him in baptism was also poured out onto us and has remained with us as well. That Holy Spirit is the embodied love of God in action. He enkindles love in us, and He makes us Holy. That is why He is the Holy Spirit. The vision Jesus casts for us is not just some wishful thinking but an act which God is accomplishing even now.
But the world and our enemy Satan pulls no punches in his effort to keep us from this. He shouts and screams another vision for assessing your life, instead of God’s love in Christ. He pumps his fist and points to the glittering successes of the world. Our human nature is drawn to this. We cannot help it. It is who we are, like moths to a flame or gambling addicts to the lights of Vegas, our hearts and minds are drawn to success. Power seduces us and turns just about anything into an idol. This warps and distorts the new man and obscures the kingdom. Jesus speaks against this today. He offers himself as the solution. He predicts his own death, the second of three powerful predictions of that event in chapters, 8, 9, and 10 of Mark. The disciples themselves do not get it, at least not yet, but again Jesus comes to the rescue with His Spirit. They did not get it this day, but each of the twelve men who heard Jesus speaking over the shoulder of that little boy would die a martyr’s death with two notable exceptions: Judas, who refused to let God forgive him and John who gave his life not in one great gout of blood but in the incremental life of service until well into his 90’s.