Who's on first?

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Mark 9:30-37

I want to look at this Gospel story again.

Jesus did not want everyone to know where he and his close followers were, because he needed a bit of time to teach them.

As he walked on from Galilee, with his eyes on the potholes and ruts in the dirt of the road ahead, his mind had a different vision: a clamouring crowd calling for his crucifixion; and a hill with a cross.

And so he taught 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.”  Now, the term “Son of Man” refers to the Messiah, the holy one sent by God.

Now, the disciples did not completely understand what he was talking about.  They were still struggling to figure out exactly who their Rabbi was.  They were not clear how he was, indeed, their Messiah, and thus the Son of Man.  And they were afraid to ask him what it meant.  

Instead, they looked at each other, shrugged their shoulders, and continued along the road before dropping back for snatches of conversation with their fellow disciples.  While the discussions were in bits, it was clear that it was important - one only had to see their faces, and hear the hushed voices, and see the furtive glances toward Jesus.

Well, it would appear that we are to understand that they did get the idea that Jesus would be killed.  

And the discussion amongst them was about who was the greatest.  Interesting - one might guess it is because they were wondering who would become the leader once Jesus is killed..... a rather touchy and macabre topic, one would think.  

No wonder they spoke so that Jesus could not hear.

They are starting to understand that there will be a new kingdom.....
do they think that this kingdom will be an earthly one, and that they need to get their names in quick to be president or prime minister?  
Do they think they need the status of “most important”, to be the one on the top of the heap?

Ego, ego....  Who is the greatest? .....  It is a big question in today’s world.

It is something that came through my mind this week as the Montreal Canadians chose a captain, and wondered – not knowing anything about it as I don’t follow hockey at all – wondered about the egos amongst the 20 players that could be involved, as one was chosen and 19 not chosen.

Who is the greatest?  When one looks at some who compete for the top place in politics - and I am NOT speaking about our Canadian politicians right now - when one looks at some who compete for the top place in politics, one has to wonder whether their motivation is the betterment of society..... or the betterment of their egos.

Who is the greatest?  Some compete for the joy of competing.  Some compete.... because they want to feed their own egos.

Somewhere in all of those kinds of motives, the disciples were talking about, debating about, arguing about.... which of them was the greatest.

And with the way they were speaking, Jesus realized that they are talking about something.... significant.

And so when they come to Capernaum, to their destination for the day, he turns to them and asks them what it is.  

And twelve faces look at him in silence, trying not to look guilty.
They don’t let on that they are worried - or dreaming - about who will be the big leader come the day.  They just look at him, waiting for someone to break the silence.  

So now he sits down to speak to them.

Now, you expect me to stand up to speak.
But the Rabbi, when teaching, sat to teach.

All of this on the road - he was teaching in a conversational way as they walked along, just as one might converse with their child on a long drive somewhere.

But now he sits down.  Faces them.  Spots a tyke - a son, a daughter of the owner of the house, perhaps.  Papa is about to call the little one away from these important visitors, but Jesus is quicker, and calls the little one into the circle.  And then takes the child in his arms.  The Greek can be read: He embraced the child.

And this was a young child - the word for child or youth in Greek is Pais.  But the word in the text is Paidion, the diminutive form.  Not a youth, not a child, but indeed a young child, or little child as our translation today says.

Now, Jesus says “Whoever welcomes such a child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Now, we sometimes mash texts together.  This is not the text about becoming a child.  This is about welcoming a child.

But who do we seek to welcome?
Remember, as humans we tend to be just like the disciples....  Wanting to be important.  Indispensable.  

Look at who people want to be associated with.  One author notes that if you go to business offices in Washington, you will find pictures on the walls.  The company president, or CEO, or someone “important” from the business in a photograph beside a senator, the vice-president, the president....  These are the pictures displayed prominently on the public walls.

There are no pictures on those walls of the company president, or CEO, or someone “important” from the business with a child other than their own.

Look at who people want to be associated with.  What are the selfies that go up on the people’s facebook walls?  Me and my buddy Tom, Justin or Stephen; Me and that ever-so-famous movie star that just happened to be at the same restaurant as I was, Me and that other famous star.....

Do people put up selfies of “Me and my new homeless friend”?  “Me and my friend at the needle exchange”?  “Me and my friend at the Douglas?”

Jesus took the street-person into his arms, embraced her, and said: whoever welcomes one such person in my name welcomes me.

Jesus took the drug addict into his arms, embraced him, and said: whoever welcomes one such person in my name welcomes me.

Jesus took the youth suffering from mental illness into his arms, embraced the youth and said: whoever welcomes one such person in my name welcomes me.

And whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.