By Pamela Lewis
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 9:30-41
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 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.” 32 But 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?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then 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.”
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 Whoever is not against us is for us. 41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”
Having occupied both sides of the desk, I know what it is like to be a student and a teacher. Both are hard. Learning takes time, and it requires putting other pursuits aside in order to focus on acquiring or imparting knowledge. The teacher must also carefully prepare lessons in order to provide in-depth training to her students. At times, Jesus needed to limit his public ministry to teach and equip his disciples to carry on when he would no longer be with them.
Not sparing his followers the hard truth about his end is part of Jesus’ teaching. But rather than question him about it and risk being scolded as they were the previous time, the disciples fall into the sin of arguing about their own ambitions. There is nothing wrong with being ambitious or hardworking; but when these qualities push aside faithfulness and service to others, problems ensue.
Jesus’ bringing a child into this scene illustrates his unique teaching approach in that he often included those who were considered as “the least” in society as being the greatest in God’s kingdom. Children, usually treated as second-class citizens and not always welcomed in adult company, are presented here as the link to Jesus and as the kingdom’s most honored citizens.
Jesus also warns of rejecting those who teach and heal in his name just because they may be different from us. It is their sharing our faith in Jesus that matters, rather than their differences. Fervent followers of Jesus are not always Christians who look like us or reflect our way of being Christian. It’s even possible (only God knows) that some who don’t even call themselves Christians may be some of his most faithful.
Pamela A. Lewis taught French for 30 years before retirement. A lifelong resident of Queens, N.Y., she attends Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and serves on various lay ministries. She writes for The Episcopal New Yorker, Episcopal Journal, and The Living Church.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
Zabriskie Memorial Church of St. John the Evangelist
The Diocese of Kontagora – The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)