Scriptures readings: James 3:13-4:3 and Mark 9:30-37
It’s time to stop and pay attention. Jesus has sat down. Now, it may not seem like that big of a deal, to sit down. But, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus is always on the go, immediately headed somewhere, always engaging his disciples while they are headed to this town or place. So whenever you find Jesus stopping and sitting down, it means it is time for a teaching moment, a time for his disciples to pay attention to their teacher and rabbi. And it was definitely time to do some teaching. A lot had happened in the last day or so.
It is hard to tell exactly the timeline in Mark, but probably within the last 24hrs, Jesus was on a mountaintop, ablaze in glory in what we have come to call the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John were up there with him and they had to shade their eyes as Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah. And then a voice boomed from the clouds, “This is my beloved Son! Listen to him!” Surely, Peter, James and John were Jesus’ favorites. They were honored with witnessing this incredible encounter. They must have been dying to let the other disciples know about what they had seen. But, Jesus ordered them not to say a word to anyone. What Jesus tells these three as they come down the mountain and to all the disciples on their way to Capernaum is what must happen to the Son. In this short time period, Jesus tells them twice that he must die and that he will be raised from the dead. But it is hard to say exactly what they were hearing from Jesus. The text says they did not understand what he was talking about. If Jesus was the Messiah, he was supposed to free them from the hand of oppression the Romans held on Israel. He was not supposed to die. I even think some of them may not have even heard Jesus’ words about his death and resurrection. They were more concerned about convincing the other disciples that they deserved to be in the high places with Jesus.
That’s why Jesus sat down and asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” The teaching moment had arrived. He knew what they were talking about behind him on the road. I have a feeling Peter, James, and John were probably the loudest as they were trying to persuade the others they deserved to be second in command. Then he takes a child up in his arms and says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” This quickly quieted the hubbub about who should be greatest among them. They had been arguing about who was the greatest and now Jesus tells them they must be last and be a servant of all. The root of the word Jesus uses for servant is where we get the word ‘deacon’ from. It is a person who serves the food to everyone else and is the last one to eat, if there is anything left to eat.
And then by placing a child in their midst, he brings them face to face with someone who is even further down on the social rung than the table server. Children in Jesus time were nobodies, property of the male-householder, even lower than adult slaves. And since Jesus and his disciples were on their home turf, more than likely, this child was related to at least one of the disciples. A young cousin that Peter had looked past, or possibly a niece that James had ignored. A child, unseen, unheard and overlooked. But for Jesus, this child was as important as the vision on the mountain-top. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Peter, James and John knew who had sent Jesus. They had heard his voice echoing from the cloud just hours before. Now, while they are still thinking of the mountain top vision, they see Jesus sitting there with a child on his lap.
Jesus doesn’t put a child in the disciples’ midst to say to us, “isn’t she cute and adorable.” This child represents the least of those around us. Jesus is challenging us to change the way we think about power. In a world where we are told to grasp hold of as much control and authority as we can, Jesus is telling us to let it go. In a world that says it doesn’t matter who you step on to get to the top, Jesus is telling us that when we step on someone’s toes in the name of power and advancement, we are stepping on him. The gifts that we are given by God are to be shared with each other with humility, mercy, gentleness, and patience. No more selfish ambitions. We don’t use what we have to control each other but we use what we have been given to bear each other up in love. We become servants to each other and to the world, where the only ambition is to serve others.
We are reminded of what this looks like every time we come to the communion table. When he could have stayed in glory, the Son humbled himself, becoming one of us in Jesus Christ. When he could have called in legions of angels to wipe out the legions of Rome, Jesus took up his cross, giving all for all, no exceptions. His body was broken and his blood was shed so that we could be embraced by God’s love and forgiveness and share that love and forgiveness with each other.
As you go out into the world this week, I’d invite you to picture Jesus sitting before you as your rabbi. He is ready to give you a teaching moment. Who would he put in your midst? A child, the one that is supposed to be seen and not heard? A teenager rebelling against the world? Someone of a different race or gender? The aged? The disabled? Maybe it’s someone who believes differently about God than you. What about that person who plans to vote for the other candidate this election season? Who have you not heard, not seen or purposefully overlooked? Then picture Jesus getting up and taking that person in his arms and saying, “Whoever welcomes one such as this in my name welcomes me and the one who sent me.” Friends, you have been welcomed into God’s family and embraced and saved by Christ’s love. Will you welcome and embrace the other in the name of the one who embraces you?