January 19, 2015
Dear brothers and sisters,
The good news today is from Mark 9:33-37.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Busted! The disciples know that Jesus is not going to be pleased by their claims about who is the greatest, who is the most favored. So, they don’t answer. Boy, I’ve done that a bunch of times in my life, not wanting to confess to something I know I’ve done wrong. I have been ashamed of myself, of my thoughts or words or behavior.
Moloney in The Gospel of Mark thinks that the disciples still believed that Jesus would establish his kingdom by the force of power when they arrive in Jerusalem and that they were “concerned about their own respective places in the power structure of the messianic kingdom which Jesus will establish after his victory.” We see this in politics all the time in our day. Those who support and served the successful candidate jockey for positions in government to exert their own power and influence. It is their just reward in their minds. They too often forget that they are the servant of the people, the purpose of government.
The disciples still cannot accept the plain statements that Jesus has made about going to Jerusalem to be arrested, to suffer, and to die. They cannot accept the cross; all they want is the glory. I can understand that. I want the glory of the kingdom of heaven without suffering, without dying. I don’t want the cross either!
Jesus decides to use a concrete symbol, something they can understand, to teach them yet again about servant leadership. According to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, “The child is not so much a symbol of innocence or humility as someone without legal status and therefore helpless. The child can do nothing for the disciple; to receive a child is to perform a good act for an insignificant person, without hope of earthly reward.” Doing something for someone who is helpless. It could be a homeless person, a prisoner, an illegal immigrant, a hospital patient or someone dying, anyone without rights or status and power or control over much in his life. That is who I am to receive, to notice, to do a good act for knowing that there is no earthy reward, only a spiritual reward. In so doing I am receiving Jesus and His Father and the Holy Spirit. I am noticing them, giving them attention, and giving something of myself. That is what brings about the kingdom of God.
Is my goal, my desire, to serve myself or another? That’s the question that Jesus poses. His answer couldn’t be more clear. He is calling me to be the servant of all. I fail in that frequently. Then, I stand before Jesus in silence and he has to teach me all over again. That’s why I have to come back to the gospels again and again and again, to get my lessons.