How does following Jesus change us? What is it that we mean exactly when we say the Christian community is called to be a ‘holy’ people? What makes us unique or different in the world?
Mark’s Gospel tells us that one day, James and John lobbied Jesus to squeeze their way into power positions in the Kingdom.
“Let us sit at your right and your left!” the two of them say.
The other ten disciples overhear the conversation and it sparks a fight. The twelve go at it, each one claiming the right to a higher place of glory than the other!
As they clamor and complain, Jesus gathers the twelve together and re-orients their broken ways of thinking about life in the Kingdom. He plants a seed of holiness for all of us to explore. Jesus says, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them […] but it will not be so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”
The uniqueness of the Christian community comes in its being formed by the Christ who eternally gives Himself as the servant of all. It stands out in the world as a community of willing, gracious servants -- loving witnesses who follow God by serving one another. In a word, love -- true, genuine, authentic love -- is the seed of all Christian holiness. It is the beginning of our unique identity in the world and it's what marks us off as disciples of Christ.
And as the story winds down, Jesus grounds our holiness in His own identity: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
“Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?”
So, this uniqueness, He says, comes as a result of our having been attached to His life; life on the Vine. We bear the fruit of the One who is himself the Holy Servant; the One who extends inexhaustible grace. Apart from Him, we can do nothing -- but in Him, we are made into a servant people, together reflecting the life of Christ in the world.
Its strange to me that we have found so many odd ways of defining what marks a church off as a “good” church or a “healthy” church.
I imagine Jesus looking at our lists and saying, “Well, not bad, these are all important … but does the church love and serve each other? Does it stand out in the world as a unique, holy community of loving servants?”
In other words, I wonder sometimes if we have been unique and strange in all the wrong ways? Perhaps we have drawn the wrong lines to mark ourselves off as different in the world, leaving Jesus to scratch His holy head.
If we’re going to begin to explore our identity as a holy people who belong to Christ, I think it would be best to begin by watering the seed he planted thousands of years ago -- learning to allow our ways of thinking to be transformed by a crucified King who died to offer life to his enemies.