Forming Faith Blog

Sacrifice, Service, Mercy (Mark 10)

Before Jesus reaches Jerusalem for his triumphal entry, the Gospel of Mark includes three distinct but related stories. What binds these stories together is service: love in action that puts the well-being of others above yourself.

People sorting clothes in service to those in need.
Photo by Julia M Cameron on
Called to Service

During the first four weeks of Lent, our Narrative Lectionary faith formation products focus on the theme “The Call to Serve.” Last week, we heard Jesus call a rich man to serve people in poverty and to follow Jesus as a disciple. Sadly, the price was too high for this man. This week, we get even more explicit about Jesus’ call to serve with three stories together.

Shalom for the World

Our call to serve arises directly from the greatest commandments to love God and love others.

This is because love is the highest gift and expectation God has for us. Love in action is service, and love working to correct the brokenness of our world is justice.

A world where people’s actions are governed completely by love of God and neighbor is a world of shalom (God’s peace). Shalom—one of my favorite concepts in the Bible—is a reality where everyone has all that they need to thrive, not just survive. While, of our own effort, we cannot get to this perfect world, God calls us to keep striving for it.

Sacrifice over Domination

The first of the three stories in our assigned reading is what is often called Jesus’ third passion prediction. I dislike this title because it’s not that Jesus had a vision predicting the future. Jesus is explaining to his disciples what will soon happen (BTW, I’m not the one to come up with this). It wasn’t too long ago that Jesus questioned the disciples about who they say he is (the Messiah), and Jesus’ revelation on the mountain in what we call the transfiguration.

The disciples know that Jesus is the promised Messiah. What they are having a hard time understanding is what that means. It’s not about Jesus being glorified (as James and John will soon ask about). Being the Messiah is about loving the world enough to die for it. One of Jesus’ tasks to bring about God’s shalom as the Messiah is to sacrifice himself for the sake of all people. The Messiah doesn’t bring about peace through domination. He brings about peace through self-sacrifice.

Service over Glory

Next, we move on to the request of the brothers James and John. Jesus brought these two, along with Peter, up the mountain to witness the transfiguration. So, it makes sense that they would be an “inner circle” for the Twelve. Which you would think would mean that they had a deeper understanding of Jesus’ mission. But they clearly don’t. Jesus just finished explaining that the work of the Messiah is self-sacrifice, and now the brothers are asking for the highest honors, the most glory.

They are completely, totally, absolutely missing the point here. Glory in the kingdom of God is not about honors, power, or applause. It is about service. And not just any service, but “as low as you can go” service. It’s about getting to a place where people look down on you and scoff at you for debasing yourself. It’s about emptying yourself of your ego and serving people who society considers beneath them. This is the glory of love; service that leads to shalom.

Mercy over Status

The last story occurs—within the chronology of the Gospel of Mark—directly before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. A man named Bartimaeus had been reduced to begging for sustenance because of his blindness and his community’s denial of justice. He knew who Jesus was and what this Son of David could do. So, when he heard that Jesus was nearby, he started calling out for him. People shushed him, thinking he was too insignificant for this great rabbi. Bartimaeus disagreed. He knew that he was a full human being deserving dignity and respect, and he was confident that Jesus knew that, too.

Bartimaeus asks Jesus for mercy, but he is not asking for forgiveness or a reduced sentence as we often use the term. Eleos—mercy—is the Greek term for the Hebrew hesed, which itself is described as covenant-loyalty or loving-kindness, an essential aspect of God’s relationship with Israel. Bartimaeus is asking for love, which in this case looks like healing. Mercy—love—given and received, is the basis of shalom. Jesus put his teaching about service into action (yet again) and served this man whom others had dismissed as beneath them.

Faith Formation Connections

Games, activities, and conversations (like this week’s free resource) are important ways to engage faith formation participants in a passage like this. However, this text is just begging for a service project. Do some research on local organizations and needs or plan to do that research during class. Prepare a short service activity (like packing lunches for a local shelter or writing advocacy letters to change an injustice), or bring in information and supplies to plan a collection drive or service outing. However you do it, whether small or big, it is important to help participants put Jesus’ words into action ASAP.

In peace and justice,

Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

Free Resource

During the main Narrative Lectionary year (this year: September 10 to May 19), we provide a free resource download from one of our products to help you in your faith formation ministry. This week, download the “Follow the Not-Leader” from our Living the Word: Kids (PK-2nd, NL) curriculum.

Order Faith Formation Resources

We are now in Lent! Have you ordered faith formation resource for the Spring quarter (which begins now)? Purchase and immediately download the Spring quarters for the Narrative Lectionary, the Revised Common Lectionary, or even a classic Sunday school Classroom curriculum for PK-2nd and 3rd-6th. Our faith formation resources are easy-to-use, theologically sound, and inclusive.

Introducing our newest Learning Together unit: Created to Care! Wonder at God’s creation and learn about what we can do to protect and heal it in these five lessons, intended for children and intergenerational groups, family or churchwide events, a Lenten series, or Vacation Bible School. We also have six other topics, one of which is FREE!

Our 2024-2025 resources have launched and are available to order! Narrative Lectionary, Revised Common Lectionary, Classic Sunday School, and more.

At Spirit & Truth Publishing, we might just have exactly what you are looking for:

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