a biblical reflection, based on Mark 9.30-37, for the 17th Sunday after Pentecost, September 20, 2015
Peter, in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say I am?”, answers, “Messiah.” Jesus then teaches his disciples that he is a Messiah without a messianic-complex – his cause, proclaiming God’s kingdom of love and justice for all; his throne of triumph, a cross of crucifixion.
His identity and destiny confirmed, Jesus heads to Jerusalem and his do-and-die confrontation with adversarial authorities. But with every step, his disciples, acting like children, argue about who among them is greatest.
If I was Jesus, I would be hurt and angry that my friends thoughtlessly, selfishly ignored the deadly severity of my need and I would chastise them in the most ungodly language! But if Jesus does that, he, like them, would make it personal – all about him.
Rather, he asks, “What were you arguing about?” I imagine the disciples, again, like children, in mortified silence waiting for one of them to say something. Anything! Even then a frustrated Jesus, with pointed finger and sharper words, might shame them. Rather, in the presence of a child, he, not ignoring their concern, teaches them about greatness: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
An amazing teaching on two counts…
Jesus instructs not by injunction, but observation. He doesn’t say, “You must do this”, but rather, “Life is like this.” Life, as created by God, is more giving than receiving. More caring for others, especially those in need as represented by a child. More justice for all than just us (whoever “us” happens to be in relation to “them”). More radical hospitality than calculated generosity. If we focus solely, even largely on our individual interests, life (which by divine design is not only meant to be, but is relational, communal, mutually beneficial) cannot exist.
Jesus, linking greatness with service, places prestige not within the reach, but in and of the hands of everyone. This also is how life is. Not everyone is materially wealthy or possesses earthly authority or wields worldly power. But everyone everywhere everyday can serve at least one somebody in need, and, therefore, is great.