The Gospel of Mark 9:30-37
Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Let us Pray: O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
Even when Jesus speaks plainly, the disciples do not understand. There is such a great gulf between their expectations and Jesus’ predictions that they are afraid even to ask for clarification. They do not want to reveal their ignorance. How many times have reality and our expectations been separated by a great gulf? Not only our expectations of what God and Jesus can do for us but how realistic are our expectations. The disciple’s believed Jesus was on His way to establishing His kingdom on earth and they had every reason to believe they were going to be leaders in that Kingdom. Their expectations and desires for greatness leave them blind to anything Jesus says about humility or suffering. In a similar way we can be guilty of hearing what Jesus says and yet still thinking and living based on what we’ve previously believed to be true. While Jesus was telling them to expect his betrayal and death, they were thinking about their place in the kingdom. This connection is jarring, and suggests that the disciples, befuddled by Jesus’ talk of death, simply ignored what they could not understand and changed the subject to something nearer their hearts. Their immediate reaction is simply to shrink back into awkward silence. No probing questions to gain understanding. Just fear perhaps of answers Jesus might give, which would turn their world upside down; disrupt their plans; disrupt their expectations of how their messiah would win victory. After their initial silence, the disciples’ reaction to the most important news to hit humanity, is to start arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest. And not only are the disciples arguing, but they are also consumed by their human disputes and differences whilst walking ‘on the way’: the phrase which denotes living a life of self-sacrificial discipleship. They are walking with Jesus on the path to Jerusalem, on the way of the cross and resurrection, whilst they argue about which of them is the greatest. Jesus explains that, if the disciples want to know who is truly great in the kingdom of God, they should take a good look at this child. He takes the child in his arms. Jesus’ gesture must be disturbing to the disciples because, in that time and place, children have so little status, ranking somewhere between women and slaves. Children spend their time in the care of women and know better than to interfere in men’s affairs. For a rabbi to take a child in his arms in the presence of his disciples is remarkable. In Jesus’ day, most people did not consider children to be significant in the social pecking order. In many ways, that condition still exists today: notice how day-care workers and teachers are still among the lowest-paid workers in many modern countries. Currently we see people in power ignoring the dangers of the Covid virus against our children by not enforcing mask mandates in schools. So, Jesus reminds his followers that the way they welcome, treat, and value children reveal a great deal about their hearts. What does it say about our own? The humble heart accepts responsibility to protecting our children. Jesus links the child to himself and himself to God, so protecting the child establishes a link between the child and God. The person who welcomes a child gets credit for welcoming Jesus, and the person who welcomes Jesus gets credit for embracing the belief in God.
Let us pray: Father, thank you for challenging me to value people whom others neglect, devalue, and overlook. Help us follow through on our convictions to love all people, especially those from whom we can receive no monetary, status, or power benefit. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.