Jesus had already explained everything to them in private. He taught them that even the wind and sea can be calmed by his rebuke, but when the storm surged and dingy started taking on water, the disciples’ faith sunk. He taught them that his body was bread and that the loaf of his life was to be shared with all, but when the crowds showed up the disciples tried to send them away hungry. From the parables to his Passion, the teacher kept teaching but the students just couldn’t comprehend the material.
Still, Jesus calls school in session once again here in Mark, trying to translate this teachable moment.
Mark 9:30-37 They went on from there and 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.”
That God is always present, always knows what you’re doing.
Jesus reverses every attempt of the world to create hierarchy.
God is most often found in the most dismissed people.
If Jesus welcomes children, then the Church in worship should too.
A family moved from New Jersey to Tennessee with the chemical plant. Dad and mom were ambitious and they didn’t attend church even though their daughter did on every Sunday morning. Instead, on Saturday nights, the parents threw parties, not the entertaining kind, but the upwardly mobile kind where only the right people were invited, especially the boss. Parties full of drinking and wild and vulgar things.
One Sunday morning, dad and mom were there, sitting beside their little girl in the pews. At the close of the service, both parents came to the altar to confess their faith in Christ. Afterwards, Craddock asked, “What prompted this?” The parents answered, “… we had [one of our parties] last night again, and it got a little loud, it got a little rough… We waked our daughter, and she came downstairs… and saw that we were eating and drinking and said, ‘Oh, can I say the blessing? God is great, God is good, let us thank him for our food. Good-night everybody.’ (Paraphrased Fred Craddock story)
Being the greatest is an achievement of distinction, a preeminence over others. An elite status that requires courting ever widening spheres of influence, using people for your own advancement and the constant reproach of those lagging behind. A love affair with prestige that precludes a love affair with God. Ambition, we are reminded, is rarely Christian.
So instead of pinning a blue ribbon to a disciple’s chest, declaring who is head of the class, or picking a teacher’s pet, Jesus, instead, wraps a child up in his arms. A little one who soils diapers by the dozen and litters the driveway with toys, and who has zero capacity to further your career or pad a resume.
What’s the lesson to be learned?
That if an encounter with the living Christ is why you enrolled, then practicing the presence of God is as elementary as fetching a bedpan for the sick, passing a plate to the famished, crossing a metal detector for the imprisoned, and welcoming the least of these. You don’t have to wait until heaven to meet Jesus, he’s as closeas the next kindergarten class.