Mark 9:30-37Jesus and his disciples 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."
So what about the next inscrutable sentence, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Really? How can that possibly work to my advantage? I want to shout, “Jesus, you are forever turning things upside down and I don’t get it.” I can almost see Jesus smile, shake his head and reply, “Yes, that is precisely my point. You don’t “get it” and you won’t “get it” if “get it” means grasp it and claim it for yourself. Are you willing to lower yourself, to give up your advantage, instead of striving to be great? Are you willing to be the servant instead of the served?” I want to answer Jesus, “Sure I am willing but I still don’t understand how being last will make me first.” Oops, there I am again, willing to be last if, and it’s a big if, if it will get me to first.
Two thousand years ago Mediterranean folks were also concerned with being first. They fret over issues of honor versus shame which for the most part was determined by class structure, who is valuable in society and who is not. At the time children had a rung on the ladder close to lepers and widows. They had no social status, no rights and were utterly vulnerable. And Jesus is teaching, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." Another one of those inscrutable sentences. What’s this fool to make of that?
Greatness is measured by how we serve others, not by chain of command, corporate ladder, position, power structure, hierarchy. That was as hard bite to swallow two thousand years ago as it is today.
When I was a lot younger I believed that from time to time God would look favorably upon me and send an angel, in the form of another human, to bring good things into my life. Generally the ‘good things’ improved my situation or status and were for me evidence of God’s Presence. Now that I have worn out far too many pairs of shoes I understand God’s favor and Presence differently. Regardless of whether I notice, God is present and active at all times in all persons. The question is, “How do I welcome (recognize) God?” Jesus’ answer; "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." When I serve others I come close to the One who sent Jesus. When I am the servant I am close to the Source, to God.