Greatness


Pentecost 17B

Sunday September 23rd, 2012.

“Greatness”

Mark 9:30-37

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered over to human hands. He will be killed, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

We step out on to the road of following the teacher, Jesus, around the dirt roads of Palestine today. We do so with the motley crew of people on the road, aware of Jesus and drawn to him, and yet so very unaware of what he is really doing and where he is asking them to go.

You can picture the scene: Jesus out in front on the dirt road (because you would never walk in front or even abreast of your rabbi) and the small band of follower moving along with him. This reminds me of the much loved family road trip…

Dad or Mum driving the family car; kids  and Mum or Dad (whoever is not driving) chatting, playing games and etc…. inevitably after two days of 8 hours in the saddle the odd argument or some bickering might take place – especially about when this trip is ever going to end!

This is what is going on here in this text. As these followers journey on together with Jesus out in front, Jesus overhears some kind of argument taking place among the group just behind him.

At some point earlier in the day, Jesus had occasion to tell them again, that things are going to get hard – even quite ugly. He speaks of death. He speaks of being raised from death – very mysterious….

For the second time now, Jesus just tells them outright. “I am going to be murdered and then I am going to rise from death”.

That’s it: No explanation as to why this is going to happen. They again don’t cope well with this news.  I don’t blame them! After all, dead people don’t rise from the dead. Also, Jesus is looking like a winner at this point. Surely it could not happen that he will be undone by mere human beings. He’s the Messiah, Peter said before!

And why die and rise again, anyway? If Jesus said he was going to heal the sick, the disciples would understand that because they knew the sick wanted to be healthy and alive again. But why die and rise again? What good would it do anyone?

Mark tells us that this group of followers was too scared to ask Jesus what he meant. Fair enough. Look what happened to Peter last time he spoke up and objected to all this death and dying and rising talk back in Caesarea Philippi! “Get behind me. Satan”, Jesus rebuked!

No one is saying anything at this point –like when you are a kid and you just know that if you talk back to Dad or Mum at this particular point, you might actually lose your life!

But then we hear that the silence is broken when the band of followers think they are out of earshot of Jesus as they talk behind him on the road back to Capernaum.

When they settle down at back at Peter’s house in Capernaum, Jesus asks about the conversation. So he did hear them! They were quite animated. In fact Mark tells us that they were arguing about “who is the greatest?”

Well everybody knows that – Mohamed Ali! He coined the phrase! He spent his boxing career telling the world ‘I am the greatest”!

In arguing about who is the best among them, they show that they are going to the default position of human beings when it comes to responding to God.

Obviously this talk of death and being handed over to human beings and rising again has raised the subject of who gets to look best in the new regime Jesus will bring in – when he takes up his rightful place as king, throws out the Romans and brings in the new age of peace and privilege for God’s people. …..

And that is the human problem on show here. When we don’t understand Jesus’ way, or reject it out of hand, or just won’t or can’t hear about it, we go to the default human position of looking good and justifying ourselves in the process of satisfying our own goals, desires, hopes and dreams.

To Trust the Law (our greatness) Is to Be Against God

To put our trust in looking good among others and before God is keeping the law to earn approval. This is always being hostile to God. Keeping our own law on life is little to do with loving God but really all about fearing God and others. It is actually living in fear.

This squabbling about greatness and position and power is a sign of the “sin under the sin”, as we have been talking about in the Prodigal God series. Sin is not merely doing, thinking or saying harmful things or not doing what we know God wants us to do, it is trying to be our own God – a breaking of the only commandment – the first one.

So, the followers of Jesus on this road don’t understand and they return to what they know – the law – keeping the rules, power over others, looking good and justifying themselves in the process.

But friends, we have an advantage here. We are living on the other side of the cross to these first followers. We trust that Jesus is on a cross for us.

See how Jesus does not give up on human beings trying to take his place. He continues to teach them. He tells these followers of his that he will be on a cross and in a grave and rise from it and even if they can’t understand now, they will then understand that Jesus will show the world once and for all that God is love ad his love drives out all human fear.

Jesus will show them that they can trust God more than looking good, jockeying for power and control. They can trust God so much that they no longer will need to constantly justify themselves in their own eyes – they will no longer have to seek freedom by keeping the law but by receiving the good news of God in the cross of Jesus.

To make the point he calls over a little child and places him in the middle of this scary bunch of adults and holds up this child as the model of being human – trusting God and serving others in all innocence and humility.

Jesus says that when we are trusting him we can happily be last or quite helpless in controlling life or gaining power and influence over others (like the disciples were trying to do).

With Jesus’ cross and resurrection coursing through our veins in our baptism and in the body and blood of Jesus, we are free in forgiveness; as free as can be.

Now our life is lived in the community of Jesus – the community of mutual serving and giving. It’s his way. Now, even in the midst of feeling quite helpless and vulnerable at times, we have a freedom. Our life is in Jesus and we are fine.

Friend, you are in Jesus. You are last with him and first with God and so you are free from having to argue with your family and friends as to who is the greatest. You no longer have to win, beat others, be better than others, smarter than others, faster than others, wealthier than others, or more right than others.

We are so free – free like a little child who just trust other unquestioningly.

Trust him. In Him you are freely to serve the last and the first in our community.

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