Mark 10:45

for even the Son of Man came, not be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

looking for a great release
from testing’s pressure
finds us jumping
from flotsam to jetsam
in a slow wide whirlpool
patterning and limiting
stepping off the wheel
even as it increases speed
narrowing life to only death

our dusty place
of ashes to ashes
has yet to fall down
naively suggesting
all is well
while broken is all about
yearning for liberation
stuck in grand illusions
avoiding thanks serving

Placing this in our own life, there comes an affirmation: I am not present to be served but, partnered with others, through suffering and death, to release one another from our particular addiction to a privileged jump to exceptionalism.

To serve as a model of having been released through belovedness and wilderness retreat by revisioning the past and changing behavior is a sure-fire recipe for the suffering and death that comes from meaningful engagement with the principalities and powers of a privileged resurrection.

Tat-Siong Benny Liew, in his chapter on “Postcolonial Criticism” in Anderson230, connects personal and social release through the word “many”, meaning “all”.

The missing ingredient that will help turn or transform his life into a ransom or a form of currency turns out to be, of course, his blood. As part of the menu of his Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus will take the cup and say to them [Mark14:24]—“This is my blood of the covenant, which is being poured out for many.” To oppose this imperial phenomenon of “globalatinization”—a form of Trinitarian transmutation involving religious, economic, and colonial violence, if you will—it will take not only more than the postcolonial “Holy Trinity” of Said, Bhabha, and Spivak [post-colonial scholars], but also many more postcolonial readings of the Bible, Mark and otherwise.

Mann414 identifies this verse as “a crux interpretum in the gospels”. This leads to adding an extra page of comment for this verse.

A significant part of the historic importance of this verse relates to a variety of theories of atonement, particularly those that have a substitutionary component. Those interested in escaping the restrictive and violent nature of substitutionary atonement might start with The Nonviolent God by J. Denny Weaver.

The key word for substitutionists is not “many”, but “ransom”. How does redemption or deliverance-by-purchase work?

This takes us back to the person who turned out to be rich and was not willing to share his resources by giving them away. That might be thought of as a ransom for his entrance to “eternal life”. References to a down-payment are also in order. In both cases this is quid pro quo, a bartering not unlike Abraham bargaining for the lives of the residents of Sodom, and Gomorrah, too.

Whether it is a monetary indulgence or 10 “righteous” people in Sodom, this parallel image of “ransom” will ascend over its important primary meaning of “service” and end up in substituting Jesus’ life for needed actions of discipleship. This will turn G*D into a cruel judge violently demanding many pounds of flesh and separation of our life from that of the community. Atonement will come to mean never having to say I’m sorry. Jesus will say it for us. It also means we don’t have to give our accumulated resources away.

Key here is not the word λύτρον (lutron, ransom or release, from bondage—ref. Exodus) but the next word, ἀντί (anti, instead of or on behalf of). It may be a subtle distinction to make but it does make a difference whether this is an action that comes out of what one can do because it reflects a generous nature or whether there is an expectation of pay back through obligation to at least feel guilty that you weren’t able to hike yourself up by your own bootstraps.

Two points remain. First, Luke 22:27 is a parallel with this verse: “Among you I function as one who serves” [5G95]. Luke removes the whole second half of this verse, which has caused so much trouble over the generations. The Five Gospels puts it this way: “Luke…makes it clear that Mark has turned an aphorism about serving into a theological statement about redemption.” This is warrant to elide the ransom parallel when reading this in public.

Second, Paul. Mann417f. reflects on “many” to find it translatable as “community” as in the Covenant People/Israel or those who follow Jesus. He goes on to note:

…the word ransom in the Pauline corpus is never used in the restrictive sense of “the community” but “for all” (1 Tim 2:6) and “for us” (Titus 2:14). If Paul is responsible—as he is—for the theological shift from a “ministry within Judaism” to a “ministry of universal significance,” he must have had a starting point within the tradition of Jesus’ work and words: we suggest that 10:45 was one such starting point in the tradition.