Gospel Lesson for Sunday Sept 23 2018
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for 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.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37”Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
“They did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” I am so aligned with the disciples on this reluctance to hear uncomfortable truth! Jesus had told his disciples before (and would tell them again) that he was to suffer and die but it was not computing… to the point that they just didn’t want to hear it. I wonder if their argument on the road about who was greatest wasn’t about which one of them was greatest, but perhaps was there another prophet—who didn’t feel the need to suffer and die—on whom they should pin their messianic hopes!
Here Jesus is still in the process of teaching his disciples what they will need to know to carry on in his (physical) absence. Perhaps they had entered the second stage of the five stages of grief—anger—which led to their contentious conversation on the road. (I take Peter’s rebuke of Jesus [Mark 8:33] as stage one: denial!) Apparently, what Jesus wants them to understand right now is that leadership looks very different in his kingdom than in the kingdoms of this world. In God’s kingdom of peace, a little child can lead wild animals around without fear (Isaiah 11:6), just as Jesus asks his disciples to prepare to face and conquer evil in His powerful name.
Choosing a child as the symbol of our response to Christ is very revealing. Children then, as now, are the hope of the future and an expensive, time-intensive, albeit precious, investment in that future! They should be seen and not heard, quip those “sage” adults. Jesus proclaims that they and all the rest of God’s “children”—many of whom we don’t even want to see, let alone hear from—are the very ones he came to earth to bring into his kingdom. He seeks the powerless, dependent, naïve, ill-behaved, adorable or abhorrent ones among us, whether in our first or second childhoods! If we have welcomed, served and cared for the “least of these” said Jesus, we have done these things unto God himself (Matthew 25:40)! Hebrews 13:2 makes this kind of welcoming a great adventure, for who wouldn’t want to “entertain angels!”
We have all known people who can eyeball a roomful of people at a party and hone in on the “rich and famous,” ignoring everyone else. Jesus is letting us know that true leadership—servant leadership—means to go directly to the persons sitting shyly in the corner of the room convinced they arrived at this party by mistake! Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (v. 35). Those clamoring for power have less chance of entering the kingdom than those who can center themselves in a child-like posture, openly trusting, freely receiving (Matthew 10:13-16).
What Jesus is talking about reminds me of the billboards summoning us to “Start seeing motorcycles.” Start seeing children. Start seeing women (Luke 7). Start seeing those who heretofore have been invisible to us as we have sought status rather than service, power instead of presence. If we cannot see (read: ‘welcome’) those among us who fly far under our social radar, we run the risk of missing Jesus himself. As Mother Teresa put it:
“Sometimes it is more difficult to work with street people than with the people in our homes for the dying because the dying are peaceful and waiting…but it is more difficult when these people are drunk or shouting to think that this is Jesus in that distressing disguise. How clean and loving our hands must be to be able to bring compassion to them!"
Bonhoeffer wrote, “The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.” Jesus says, “Are you still looking for me? Welcome the children.”
e-Devotion author: Nance Wabshaw.
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