The passage from Isaiah is the last of the great servant songs in Isaiah. The servant songs are startling poetry: they have defied easy interpretation since their first publication. Just who is the servant? The prophet? Israel? Some player yet to be named? And just how is the servant’s suffering redemptive for others? The theme of the suffering righteous one is a commonplace in ancient literature. For good examples see the Joseph story in Genesis, many of the psalms and my favorite, Wisdom, chapter 2. It would have been easy for early christians to tell the story of Jesus’ death along the lines of the story of the suffering righteous one. As I read it, the nations look in horror on the violence they themselves have perpetrated (possibly against Israel, or whoever the victim happens to be), and are converted from their own violence.Â Would that it were so.
The passage from the Gospel of Mark is the second to last episode in Mark before the triumphal entry into Jerusalem (the beginning of the Passion portion of the Gospel). The last episode is the healing of Blind Bartimaeus. The two episodes read like a diptych, each interpreting the other. What James and John fail to see, Bartimaeus, despite his blindness, sees.
The image of cup and baptism are images of participation — we who are many are one for we share one bread and one cup. To have a share in Jesus means to have a share in his passion. Mark’s community was likely under persecution during the events surrounding 66-70 CE. While they had hoped for triumph, a new, ascendant Empire of God, they found instead persecution. Bartimaeus “gets it:” he follows Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.
We don’t live with Mark’s community’s persecution, but we can ask ourselves the question whose cup and baptism we share. Who else shares this washing with us, and drinks this cup with us? Refugees in Darfur? Civilians in Iraq? Winos on our streets? You pick the hot spot. What does it mean to share a cup with them? James and John didn’t get it (not at the moment, anyway). Bartimaeus sees and follows. How do we bring all that to our tables?