Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Jesus is Your Ransom” (Mark 10:42-45)
October 21, 2018
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Many years ago I heard someone say something very true and very funny (in a slightly sobering way)—“Get over yourself; everyone else has.”
In today’s gospel passage we see that two of the disciples, James and John, had not gotten over themselves yet, as Mark wrote:
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking” (Mark 10:35-38).
After Jesus warned James and John about the cup of suffering that they would indeed drink, and reminding them that sitting at God’s right and left hand in glory is an honor “for those for whom it has been prepared”, Mark notes that the other ten disciples were not blessed: “When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John” (Mark 10:38-41). Apparently even though James and John had not gotten over themselves, the other ten disciples had.
And if we are honest, each of us can think of similar scenarios in our lives when we were around people like James and John, who had to be the center of attention. More uncomfortably, each of us can think of times when we ourselves were like James and John. But in response to all this Jesus then says something none of the disciples expected:
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).
Jesus emphasizes that when it comes to our lives, it’s not about seats of honor; it’s about servanthood.
And Jesus points to Good Friday as being the reason he was incarnated in the first place, as what would prove to be his ultimate expression of not only being a servant to all, but also being a ransom for all.
This idea of Jesus’ death on the cross being our ransom, a substitutionary death in our place, is a recurring theme in the New Testament. Paul put it this way, “He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity” (Titus 2:14). Peter wrote, “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold, but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Through the years Hollywood has produced many films with ransom or substitutionary death as a theme. Along these lines I am going to juxtapose illustrations from two of my favorite films.
The first is the 2004 film Man on Fire in which the incomparable Denzel Washington portrays John Creasy, a former CIA operative and recovering alcoholic who is hired by a very wealthy Mexican family to be the bodyguard for their nine-year old daughter Pita. Nevertheless Pita is kidnapped and held for a $10 million ransom. Near the end of the film John Creasy tracks down Pita’s kidnapper on the phone and the two of them make a deal to save Pita’s life.
The kidnapper proposes, “Listen! I will give you a life for a life.” “What do you mean?” Creasy responds. “Her life for your life.” Creasy is confused because he thinks Pita has been killed, “Who’s life?” “The girl’s. Pita’s.” Creasy does not believe him, “You’re a liar. Pita’s dead.” The kidnapper responds, “I’m a businessman. A dead girl is worth nothing. She is alive.” After receiving proof of life Creasy responds, “Okay.”
At the end of the film Creasy meets Pita’s mother at one end of a bridge. At the other end of the bridge await the kidnapper with his cronies, and Pita. Creasy tells the mother, “I’m going up on the bridge to get Pita…don’t wait for me, okay?” She nods. Creasy reassures her, “It’ll be alright, you okay?” She nods, “Yeah.” And Creasy slowly walks alone to the top of the bridge.
When the kidnappers see Creasy at the top of the bridge, they pull Pita from their car, cut the cord holding her wrists together, remove her hood and blindfold, and let her go. Pita sees Creasy and screams his name as she sprints up the bridge toward him. As she finally reaches him, he gets down on a knee as they embrace. He smiles at her, “You alright? They didn’t hurt you?” Pita shakes her head no. Then Creasy’s smile grows wider, “Hi.” Pita grins and starts giggling.
“Alright,” Creasy continues, “your mother’s waiting for you. She’s right down there at the end of the bridge. Okay? You go home.” “Okay,” Pita replies, “where are you going?” “I’m going home too,” Creasy replies. Pita gives him a big hug, “I love you, Creasy…and you love me, don’t you?” Creasy whispers, “Yes I do.” He gently pats her on the back, “Now run along, Pita, go, run.” Pita runs down the bridge to be reunited with her waiting mother, and Creasy slowly descends to the other side of the bridge with his hands raised and turns himself over to the kidnappers. Creasy literally gives his life as a ransom in exchange for Pita’s life. By the way, this film is based on a true story.
The second movie is the gritty 2008 film Gran Torino in which Clint Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a hardened veteran of the Korean War and a widower who has lived in the same house outside of Detroit for decades. As part of a gang initiation a teenage neighbor named Thao tries to steal Walt’s prized 1972 Ford Gran Torino, and as you know it is never a smart move to try to take something from a character played by Clint Eastwood. Walt not only stops Thao from stealing his Gran Torino, he then takes him under his wing and befriends him.
Later the same gang for whom Thao had tried to steal the Gran Torino attacks and ravishes Thao’s older sister, and he asks Walt to help him take revenge. He goes to Walt’s house and Walt gives Thao his Silver Star from Korea and confesses that he had killed at least thirteen soldiers over there and that it was awful to have that on his conscience. He leaves Thao in his basement and tells him, “I’ve got blood on my hands, I’m soiled. That’s why I’m going it alone tonight.”
Thao protests, “Walt, you take me with you right now. Let me out!” Walt replies, “Look, you’ve come a long way. I’m proud to say that you’re my friend. But you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. But me, I finish things. That’s what I do. And I’m going it alone.” And Walt heads off alone to face the gang.
Walt arrives that night at the gang’s house. Several gang members emerge from the house and they and Walt “exchange pleasantries” that I will not repeat in the pulpit. One of the gang members asks, “So where’s Thao at? Is he gonna come?” Walt growls, “Don’t worry about Thao. Thao’s got not one second for you.” Meanwhile neighbors are gathering at their windows to see what happens.
Several gang members are pointing their guns at Walt, who surprises them with a question as he pulls out a cigarette, “Got a light?” They do not know how to respond. Walt continues, “Me? I’ve got a light.” He then begins whispering, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” and reaches into his coat pocket. As he withdraws his hand from his pocket the gang members open fire and kill Walt, who falls flat on his back, arms outstretched, with a cigarette lighter in his hand. As the camera pans upward you see Walt lying in the exact shape of a cross on the lawn. The symbolism is unmistakable. Walt had literally given his life for Thao’s life. The gang members were then arrested and taken into custody.
When Thao later arrives at the scene he asks the police officers, “What happened? He’s a friend of mine!” And the officers tell him what the witnesses had told them, that although Walt was unarmed he had been shot down. Thao realizes that Walt had literally given his life for him and died in his place. As if that weren’t enough, Walt, unbeknownst to his family and unbeknownst to Thao, had bequeathed his beloved Gran Torino to Thao. The film ends with Thao, whose life Walt had saved by giving his own as a ransom in Thao’s place, driving away in the Gran Torino.
You know where this is going. What John Creasy did for Pita that day at the bridge, Jesus did for you on Good Friday at the cross. What Walt did for Thao that night at the gang’s house, Jesus did for you on Good Friday at Calvary. Jesus did exactly what he had told his disciples he would do; he gave his life as a ransom “for many.” And that “many” includes you. Jesus gave his life for your life.
Jesus walked alone across the bridge between life and death, the bridge between heaven and hell, for you. In your place, with open upheld arms Jesus surrendered himself to the Roman soldiers for you. In your place, Jesus, the Light of the World, took the bullets from the gang and died with his arms outstretched out of love for you. Jesus went to the cross alone, and Jesus, like Walt Kowalski, finishes things—for as he died Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Many centuries earlier the Old Testament prophet Isaiah foretold Jesus’ substitutionary death for you this way:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6).
When it comes to paying the ransom for your life the psalmist tells us, “We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life; For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it” (Psalm 49:6-7, The Book of Common Prayer 652).
But you do not have to pay the ransom for your life, because Jesus already has.
Jesus is your ransom. That is the good news of the gospel.
Even if like James and John, you have not gotten over yourself—that did not stop Jesus from giving his life as a ransom for you, because apparently God has never gotten over you.