Text: Mark 9:30-37
Date: Pentecost XVIII Proper 20b + 9/23/18
The time was coming. As it got closer Jesus was busy preparing the Twelve apostles for what He knew would be the hardest lesson, namely, that His horrific death on the cross, though it would look like defeat would be the display of God’s greatest love. That preparation was in plain words: “The Son of man is being delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and having been killed, after three days he shall rise again.” This must have sounded like some parable to them, a story to teach them some deep proof. But it was no story, no poetic parable. It was the truth, the raw and real truth. We’re sure they really didn’t believe that! For if you don’t believe in Jesus’ innocent and bloody death how can you believe in a real resurrection from the dead? Mark tells us straight out, “But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
Until you understand and grasp love only fear fills your world. How much fear I heard in the hospital this last week. Oh, there’s the fear of pain or even death. But above all I heard the complaints and cries of the fear of being alone. “Don’t leave me” the woman asked of the attending nurse. But of greater importance is that we understand this from the point of view of our relationship with God. Did you hear these cries and groanings as you prayed today’s psalm? “O God, save me by your name.” “O God, hear my prayer.” Only faith in God’s clear and loving purposes can overcome such fear saying in the face of all opposition and contradiction, “Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life” (Ps 54).
The disciples’ lack of understanding and even fear deteriorated into a foolish argument about their rank in Jesus’ army. Who is greater? Jesus changes the argument from being comparatively greater than another to who is first and who is last. Get this straight. You’re all in this together. There is only one who is greater than all and that is the Lord who would demonstrate, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). And there we are again, confronted by the scandal of His approaching death and sacrifice making us wonder, “What kind of love is this?”
Taking a child who was standing there and making him the center of attention Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” The lesson is more than how we are to treat one another. It is to teach us what it means to be children of God. For by means of Jesus’ sacrifice all who believe in Him also as the risen Lord are received by God as His own children. As His children we know and everyone knows we did nothing to attain that status. It is pure gift of God’s pure love. In Christ God has taken us and put us in the midst of His other children, the Church, and made us, first, to receive His love and then to share it with one another.
You see we are received as children of God because of the love of His Son. It is good to remember the same is true of your neighbor and to reflect that same love. It is this service of love that is the true greatness we all can reach and for which Jesus bids us to strive. “None are higher than Jesus and his Father; the ministration that ministers to them is the highest of all and elevates us as nothing else can” (Lenski). Now how can anyone be afraid of that?