If the gospel were a video game, the disciples would perhaps have to find fruit or some other food item to rebuild strength, and they would surely have to work for some kind of experience points that give them more wisdom. They would go out on fetch quests such as being sent out two by two with only one belts and two tunics to bring back a convert, meanwhile also accomplishing a task such as casting out a demon.
My boys, especially #1 Son, played a lot of RPGs. Can you tell?
This end of Mark 10 would be the end of a level. In the next chapter Jesus goes into Jerusalem, so a phase of the game -er – story is being completed here. We get one new piece of teaching, to the rich man, and a reminder to the disciples that following Jesus is not a winning game in earthly kingdom terms, that death is coming. But foolish James and John only up the ante by trying to make it a winning game for the heavenly kingdom.
James and John, Zebedee’s sons, came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. They said, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” Jesus replied, “You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said, “You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.” (Mark 10:35-40, CEB)
The other disciples are infuriated, so as the action for the chapter reaches its final incident, we can picture the grumbling of the men around Jesus, distracted from what lies in the immediate future by the drama they are creating about the honor they hope to have in heaven.
They need to understand, this is not a role-playing game. They are not Mario or Link, rescuing Peach or seeking Zelda. Shit is about to get real. What Jesus has been predicting *will* happen.
But they cannot see it.
The disciples want to be in the game with Jesus, but they keep missing … something. I’m reminded of the early days when #1 Son first played Super Mario, back in the Super NES days. Before he learned how to master the basic movements, the buttons on the controllers, there was a lot of wild arm-waving. Later we got books with explanations – no YouTube video walk-throughs way back in 1994 – but sometimes he needed extra help. His favorite babysitter was a teenage boy who would help him beat Bowser.
Jesus is offering this help to the disciples, telling them over and over what they need to know, but they can’t seem to grasp what he is saying.
Or perhaps they do not want to understand.
In the miracle of storytelling that is Mark’s gospel, Chapter 10 ends with the healing of blind Bartimaeus, a terrific NPC (non-player character). And although it is obvious what kind of healing Bartimaeus needs, Jesus makes him ask for it, as if to say:
Look around, disciples! Look at what is happening right in front of you! You can’t see unless you are willing to see.
Bartimaeus becomes one of the party. Level complete. Understanding? Maybe not.
Jesus, I want to follow you. I want to understand more than what is right in front of me. I want the courage to go with you to the end. I pray for these things, in your holy name. Amen.
I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent. Want to read along? I’m using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I am also referring to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.