Mark: 10: 35-45
“Biting off more than we can chew”
Have you ever as the saying goes, “bitten off more than you can chew?”
Last Monday Josh and I set of at 10.00am heading to Sydney to pick up some second hand furniture from two different locations in a rented three ton removal van. We had no GPS but we had our maps printed out from the internet and farewelled Cathy with the remarks that we should be home at about 11 o’clock that night. Unfortunately, we ran out of rugs, rags and cushions and so to stop the furniture from rubbing against each other we used our jumpers-but that was O.K. because it was a beautiful sunny day. After getting a little lost and doing an additional 420km’s further than our itinerary, at 4.30am the next morning we arrived home from Sydney via skirting past Canberra, Josh with my T-shirt on over his T-shirt to try and at least get a little warmth and with me with no top on and with the window down trying to stay awake. Having only driven once in Sydney before, and that was not through the middle, and not rushed-as we were driven along the Hume Highway with the signs reminding us that Melbourne was fast becoming as close as Dubbo, pitch dark, no GPS and with no map it crossed my mind that in my lack of preparation and naivety of just what we were undertaking, that on this occasion, while “I may not have bitten off more than I could chew”, my jaws were getting decidingly tender.
In today’s Gospel, the apostles James and John not understanding or naive to what was about to unfold, bring before Jesus their desires concerning their rank and standing within his kingdom “Grant unto us that we may sit, one on your right hand and one on your left hand, in your glory”. And after Jesus responds with “you do not know what you ask”, He tells them of what they are seeking, far from asking for high rank as they saw it; they are asking to share in his cup of wrath and in his baptism of blood. They were biting off more than they could chew because they did not truly understand what was to come. But in that unknowingness, their response was to say yes, we can do it-and they were confident they could. Yet as we know, over the next week as Jesus walked to the cross they came to see themselves in reality as they all fell away in fear and weakness. Their fear and weakness that made them feel shame. But their weaknesses and shame that brought strength. Strength and reliance not upon themselves, but on Christ. Reliance on Christ, reliance in his strength that would allow them to not run in fear when they too would later suffer terribly-but to face that suffering not in their own strength, but in Christ. Their weaknesses that became their strength. Their weaknesses that led them not to boast of themselves, but of Christ.
You would have heard the saying that “sport builds character”, but I read a different version of that from the legendry American Football Coach Vince Lombardi who said that sport “doesn’t so much build character but allows you to display it”. Great coaches are not just about winning the game, they are about building people to be something other than just sportspeople and though I’m not fully conversant with Rugby League I understand Newcastle Knights coach Wayne Bennett to be of that calibre. So too Kevin Sheedy. The now coach of Greater Western Sydney who was approached by one of his young players back when he was coaching the Essendon Football club, who asked him if they could talk. This player after being drafted had been doing all the work but kept getting injured, and in his own words was “looking for a bit of sympathy”. They met over lunch and he told his coach that because of his injuries and the hardship they brought him, that he was considering giving up. But far from getting a “oh you poor thing” response, Sheed’s told him how it was and said (I cannot remember word for word but along the lines of) “You weak and selfish person. I selected you from among hundreds just as good as you and have given you a chance that others dream off and would beg for. But you are finding it too hard because you’re having some tough times. Leave then, and I’ll go and get one of those boys who would die for the chance you’ve been given.” Not quite what he expected. But he got it the point and went on the play 200 hundred odd games. And how did he get the point? Because it was true. He wasn’t one of the Garry Ablett type of footballers who come along once every generation. For sure he was good-just like the other thousands that don’t get the chance, that miss that chance by the slightest of margins.
St. Paul suffered from an ailment that he described as a thorn in his flesh. People have guessed that it may have been physical, or depression or so forth. We are not told what it was but it must have been terrible as it led him to ask/beg the Lord to take it away. And the well-known response he received: “My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness”. Those words of Kevin Sheedy, “I gave you something others would die for and when it gets tough, you want to walk away, how dare you”. Thorns in our flesh. Cravings for power, money, addictions, and desires of the flesh-These are thorns in our side that we live with. They desire to be fed and we desire they be taken from us. A desire to run from them. To take back that seemingly insignificant moment from years past that now can be seen for what it was-the first acknowledgement of the thorns that have grown in us.
In the Garden of Eden, the human race bit off more than it could chew-sin. Sin, the thorn in our side that we feed, but also run from. The thorn in our side that we fall too, that attracts us-that we enjoy, yet we also abhor. The thorn that brings us to our knee’s and shows us our plight in our utter weakness-our weakness though that allow us to see the truth-the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ-our servant, and our Saviour who brings us his grace, and that, more than being enough, is everything. The grace that we now live under in our weaknesses, your weaknesses that in Christ have brought you strength. Strength to live with those thorns in your flesh. Strength to call on the Lord for forgiveness when they overpower you. And the strength to serve God and his people with the gifts that you have been given. Your weaknesses that in Christ have set you free, that in Christ alone, you may be strong. Amen.