Where the Old Measures Don’t Matter…

Mark 10:35-45

The other disciples don’t really ‘get it’ either, of course.  If they did, they wouldn’t be angry with these two brothers now. Indeed, if they had any deep sense of what mattered most, it seems to me they would instead be puzzled by the request to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand ‘in glory.’ Or saddened by it. Rather, I expect they are angry because they didn’t think to ask first.

For this is so. James and John and all the rest and too much, I expect, you and I, still measure all of it in the old ways:

  • Where one is always necessarily better than another.
  • Where there can only be one true ‘winner.’
  • Where if you don’t come in ‘first,’ then all the rest don’t really count.

Where, in the limited imagination of two brothers speaking to Jesus now, there are only two places which matter: on the right and on the left and that is their goal.

And where if you don’t advocate for yourself, you’re not likely to get what you believe you deserve.

It sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

For who among us hasn’t been measuring and measuring and measuring our whole lives long?

Oh, we may not always do so as obviously as do James and John, but it’s too much always there, isn’t it?

  • From the first day of preschool or maybe even before  in the awareness of the presence of a sibling who is seen as competition…
  • From the first time you brought a report card home or the first time you were or were not picked first or last for a team…
  • From when you realized you only had a voice for the choir, if that … from when you did or did not hear your name called for special recognition at an awards assembly or graduation whenever, wherever…
  • And from when you first looked around to measure your place among your peers at work in terms of title, or presumed income, or skill, or level of accomplishment…
  • And on and on… and on…

It seems that to be human, at least in the culture you and I call home, is too often to measure ourselves over and against each other as James and John are surely doing now. In fact, in an odd way, I found this echoed in the lament of one whose life’s work is like my own when he articulated his current struggle in the world we find ourselves in that ‘he doesn’t even know how to measure success now!’

Because without the ‘measure,’ we feel we cannot really gauge the worth, can we?

And yes, at least where I stand today, that is where things seem to be.

Oh, we can still look down the road and see another who seems to be doing better or worse than we are, but overall, all the old measures have been thrown up in the air.

And yet even now we try, don’t we… comparing the numbers of those showing up in person, counting the ‘views’ on a livestream video or prerecorded worship offering, keeping track of what people are still giving to the ministry…but because nothing is as it was, we don’t know whether to be glad or sad about it.

Because the old measures don’t work.

They just don’t.

And I, for one, expect that Jesus is not all that unhappy about that.

Because Jesus always knew that those things never really measured what mattered at all.

And I can’t help but wonder if Jesus isn’t leaning in today, hoping we will finally see what he has always seen. That it is not about what we always thought it was about. Instead, it is the call to look and see what is right in front of us all the time: someone in need of the gifts we have been uniquely given to give.  And then to simply live as one who serves.  And while we are at it to resist the temptation to start measuring that as well.

In fact, I kind of think when Jesus tells the brothers that what they are asking for is not his to give, is not because he doesn’t have the authority to do so, but because  in the ‘glory’ they are looking forward to, it is simply not going to look or be like anything we have known before.  Because the old measures won’t matter. Indeed, I expect if we can really take in what this whole journey of following Jesus is about, in the end the only ‘measure’ that will matter is whether we have discovered the freedom of ‘not measuring at all.’ And don’t we get a taste of that even now in those moments when we find ourselves actually unable to measure ourselves, and we don’t measure those we encounter either.  As we we simply do as Jesus did and seek to serve whoever is right in front of us.

This calls up something wholly new in many of us, it seems to me.

At least it does for me.

And I imagine the only place to begin is to quit looking at myself. Or the one against whom I am tempted to measure my success or my failure and to cast my gaze in the direction Jesus offers now.

To the cross itself.

To the cup he would drink and the baptism which which he would be baptized.

And then only through the lens of that astounding gift to see the world once more as a place where the old measures really don’t count, except as we seek to also serve.

As Jesus did.

And through it all to hear this as a call to, an offering of, profound freedom. To a way of being where the old measures don’t count any more.  Where we are always only measured by the light of God’s great love.

  • How is it that you hear the request of James and John today?
  • How might the world change if we just quit measuring?
  • Are you able to see this particular time as an invitation to cast aside the old measures? What would that look like for you? Does that, in fact, sound like freedom?


  1. Stella says:

    Love this , and get what you’re saying. Thank you – it is a freedom .
    Concerned that there is a danger in not measuring how little some people may have ? It needs to be noticed and highlighted.
    Likewise – MP’s expenses, the Pandora papers – measuring and drawing attention to lack of integrity

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Thanks, Stella. Your point is well taken. I have sat with your thoughts a while considering the truth that I write from a particular perspective: always one of privilege. So now I am trying to think about how to incorporate your corrective in my preaching this week. I am wondering, though, if by taking the old measures away (the ones that don’t matter) we open ourselves up to seeing the ones that do? Like the ones you are naming?

  2. Andres Albertsen says:

    In relation to Stella’s point and considering that I am pastor of a small congregation of immigrants, not all of them documented, used to be treated as servants (and even slaves) at work. They should not hear the call to be servants and slaves of all as a call to continue pleasing their employers and letting them continue making lots of money at their expense. Would it not be in conformity to Jesus’ teaching to tell them to resist unjust treatment even to the point of facing retaliation?

    • Janet Hunt says:

      Thanks, Andres, for commenting. It is always a wonder to me how the same Gospel is heard and understood differently in different contexts, and what a gift that is. I couldn’t agree with you more. Without a doubt these words from Mark will sound different among those you serve. I would love to hear how you sort this out. Blessings to you in your proclamation!

    • ‘Servant to all’ means expanding the context from the employer to the other servants as well, and to those they left behind, and those who will come after them. Serving all – instead of just the immediate ‘superior’ – means taking responsibility for them. It includes transforming the situation for all. It is not a loss of power but a re-organizing of using the power of one’s life and death in a direction that is inclusive. Resisting unjust treatment of others and of one’s self can be defiant self-interest or service to the future; labor unions have gone in both directions. When it is ‘us vs. them’ it goes into the question of who gets to be the real boss. When it is a future for all, it’s different.

      • I like that distinction between defiant self-interest and service to the future. Being an immigrant to this country, I am not familiar with the history of labor unions, and would like some examples labor unions going in the direction of service to the future and how that has produced change that benefits all. Thank you!

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