September 21, 2003

Mark 9:30-37

[30] Leaving there, they went through Galilee. He didn't want anyone to know their whereabouts, for he wanted to teach his disciples. He told them, "The Son of Man is about to be betrayed to some people who want nothing to do with God. They will murder him. Three days after his murder, he will rise, alive." They didn't know what he was talking about, but were afraid to ask him about it.

[33] They came to Capernaum. When he was safe at home, he asked them, "What were you discussing on the road?"

[34] The silence was deafening -- they had been arguing with one another over who among them was greatest.

[35] He sat down and summoned the Twelve. "So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all."

[36] He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, "Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me -- God who sent me."

[The Message]


1. Teaching in small, out-of-the-way places allows going in depth. It presumes that folks are up to wrestling with these sorts difficult teachings. But if there is fear of addressing the unthinkable, the best of teaching doesn't actually become learning. You can lead a disciple to think but you can't make them understand.

2. So what was learned, instead? Well, the disciples seem to have figured out that Jesus was going to die, even if they didn't get the "alive" part. What would be the reasonable thing to deal with this partial learning? Arguing about who would be next in line to lead the gang? Do you think Peter was part of this argument? What about Judas? The beloved disciple? Do you still have a fantasy that you will be in a position of leadership beyond that which you currently have so you can really make a difference in the life of the church?

3. Rather than being lifted on the shoulders of your compatriots as though you were the official hero of the homecoming game, Jesus asks us to lift others, embrace others. As a former end, my fantasy has to do with catching a pass, making a remarkable juke and walking triumphantly into the end zone. "I'm the greatest!" With never a thought for the arm that passed the ball, the blocker that gave the quarterback time to throw, the coach that designed the play, the turf that affected the footing of the defender, the backup end that pushed me to get better in order to play, and any number of others factors.

Without sensitivity to community in all its breadth, including those that don't give a rip about football at all, we haven't learned enough about what Jesus was trying to teach while traveling the hedges and byways.