Great to Him!
September 19 2021
Scripture Reading: Mark 9:30-37
In order to truly understand today’s assigned reading, some context is needed.
First of all, the Gospel of Mark was likely written by “John Mark.” Unlike St. Matthew and St. John, he was not one of the disciples of Jesus, but a close associate of St. Peter. Mark’s Gospel is probably a compilation of Peter’s sermons and stories that Mark heard through the years.
The Gospel of Mark is the shortest of the four Gospels. It appears to be neatly ordered and arranged. Just 16 chapters long, sitting at the very center of Mark’s Gospel (chapter 9) is Jesus’ Transfiguration, where His garments shone like the sun and He stood with Moses and Elijah and a voice came from Heaven: “This is My Son, Whom I love. Listen to Him.” Talk about power! Talk about majesty! Talk about making an impression!
Just after the Transfiguration, Jesus drives a demon out of a young boy. For most of his life, the demon had thrown the boy onto the ground in violent convulsions. No one else – including Jesus’ disciples – had been able to rid the boy of the demon, but Jesus issued a command to the demon, who forcefully exited the boy’s body. Talk about power! Talk about majesty! Talk about making an impression!
Falling in neat order right after these two events in Mark’s Gospel is today’s assigned reading. It’s a dramatic shift in emphasis.
No wonder the disciples were arguing on the road about which among them was the greatest. They had been personal eyewitnesses of some pretty impressive power and majesty. The assumption was that some of Jesus’ power and majesty would rub off on them as His disciples, so that the greatest among them would probably receive more time with Jesus and would probably stand more of a chance of inheriting the mantle of His power and authority (similar to Elijah and Elisha; 2 Kings 2).
But Jesus overheard the argument as they walked along. As He listened, He probably just shook His head and thought to Himself “The boys just don’t get it.” So Jesus created a teachable moment. He assumed the posture of a teacher – He sat down, with the disciples gathered around Him to listen. He grabbed the closest thing He could find – a little child. Now little children were considered somewhat of an inconvenient bother in Jesus’ day. And this little child was specifically labeled by St. Mark as a “brephos” – an infant who could not speak. Even more useless in the eyes of the world. But, at that moment, one could not look at Jesus without seeing the infant and one could not look at the infant without seeing Jesus.
This little non-verbal infant could not argue about greatness. He had not witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration, nor His miracle of the driving out the demon. This little child Jesus used as an example of greatness in the Kingdom of God. All because of God’s Grace.
True greatness is in service. In giving. True greatness is not found standing on a mountain with shining clothes and a Heavenly proclamation. True greatness is not found in forcefully driving out demons. True greatness is in reaching out and embracing those who are non-contributing societal outcasts - those who are otherwise “good for nothing.”
And Jesus was more than just talk. He had just finished teaching the disciples (even though they didn’t “get it,” Mark 9:32) that He would be betrayed and killed, but that He would rise. And, if you fast forward to Mark 15 and 16, that’s exactly what happens! Jesus is betrayed into the hands of sinful men. Jesus is killed. Jesus does rise after three days.
The truly important part is to look closely and carefully. If you do, you will see that you are that little child held in Jesus’ Arms. He welcomed you into His Arms through the waters of Holy Baptism – for many of us before we could ever say a word or witness any of His miracles or be commanded to listen to Him. Yet – like that “object lesson” child in our Gospel today – Jesus chose you (John 15:16) willfully and intentionally, proving His true greatness and extending to you the unconditional, unearned, undeserved welcome of His Father.
There are many who still don’t get it. There are many – even inside the worldwide church – who are still trying to prove their own greatness to Jesus; who are arguing among themselves whom Jesus will pick as the best or the most famous or the honored guest. There are many who fail to understand they will always be unable to achieve or do what Jesus can (Mark 9:18).
How much better to be pulled into the loving embrace of Jesus, to be shown the sacrificed, pierced body of our greatest lover (1 John 4:9; John 15:13) and to never have to worry about whether we are “great enough” – or even “good enough” – because Jesus has already proven how great we are to Him by becoming our humble servant (Philippians 2:5-11).
Grace and peace to you!
Pastor Christopher Schaar