Today’s Gospel text is much like the text from last week. Both are in a series of 3 Gospel texts in Mark that follow a pattern of teaching. The 3 texts contain a threefold pattern: Jesus predicts His death, the Disciples don’t understand, and Jesus gives them further teaching. Last week, Jesus predicted His death, Peter rebukes Him, Jesus rebukes Peter and Jesus teaches them that they must give up their human thinking for Divine things.
These 3 teachings appear as the Gospel gains momentum toward its climax. The Gospel of Mark, like each of the Gospels, makes a pivot from Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing to a journey toward the cross. Jesus’ ministry takes on a different tone as His death approaches. Once they leave the lakeside to head toward Jerusalem, Jesus tries to lay out a vision of what they are moving toward. Last week and this week and a reading to come, all include a prediction that Jesus will die and be resurrected as He prepares the Disciples for what awaits them in Jerusalem.
The text for today has its own nuisances. First, the Disciples pass through Galilee as Jesus is predicting that He will be handed over to be killed and predicts His resurrection. Though, He had just told them that He would die, the Disciples don’t understand. They don’t understand and were afraid to ask Him about it.
We can’t blame the Disciples for not understanding. They are probably still trying to grasp that Jesus is not the Messiah that they had expected. He is nothing like they had hoped for. (By the way, next week, we are going to do a worship service in the reverse, as a reminder of how God did everything opposite of our expectations.) So, if everything is backwards, of course, it will take Him more than one telling for them to understand. It is one thing for them to not understand – it is quite interesting that they were afraid to ask Him what He meant.
I wonder if they didn’t ask because they thought they should already know what He is talking about. I wonder if they didn’t ask because each one thought the others knew and didn’t want to be the only one who didn’t understand. Often, in the Gospel of Mark, the Disciples are portrayed as clueless. If we really read the texts closely, the Disciples, the one closest to Jesus, aren’t getting His teachings. Perhaps, they don’t ask because they don’t want to understand. Perhaps they ARE starting to get that what Jesus is teaching them is hard to accept and to live.
If in their sandals, would we ask Jesus what He meant?
What would we ask Jesus?
What about His teaching do we not understand and would ask Him to explain?
One of the things I love about being a part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is that we value questioning. One of the core characteristics of the Disciples is combining reason and faith. We know that asking questions and wrestling with our doubts is a faithful practice. We needn’t be ashamed of our wondering. On the other hand, we should be ashamed of pondering things not of God as the Disciples were doing.
As the Disciples continued their journey from Galilee to Capernaum, they were arguing about something. Jesus knew it. I suspect Jesus knew exactly what they were in a heated debate about. The Disciples should have known better, but they were arguing which one of them was the greatest. Can you imagine it? I’m the greatest. No, I’m the greatest. No, Me, I’m first. No, no, no, I’m His favorite.
What they should have been arguing is who is the least of us.
I suspect Jesus knew exactly what they were arguing about because of His response. Jesus says whoever wants to be the first has to be the servant of all. Then, He uses the example of a little child. The Greek word servant, diakonos, means someone who served meals. It is where we get the word Deacon and our understanding of the role of one who serves the Lord’s Supper. The table servant was the lowest in rank of all servants. He or she was the one who would serve all then eat what was left over after everyone else had eaten.
The change to the teaching about a little child seems like an abrupt shift, but it would not have seemed a big shift to the Greek-speaking hearer. There is a play on words in the Greek. The word for little child and a synonym for servant sound alike. Not only do the words sound alike, the little child and servant are alike in their standing. Both a little child and a servant have little or no rank in society. A person serving a child or a servant can gain nothing by doing so.
Posturing for power or competing for wealth and fame was a part of their culture and is still a part of our modern culture. The Disciples wanted the place of highest honor and favor. When competing for their Lord’s favor, they shouldn’t have been focused on who is first; they should have been focused on who is last. That is to say that they were most favored by Jesus not when they are sitting at the head of the table, but when they are serving the table.
In last week’s text, Peter was not thinking the way God thinks. We learned that discipleship is the natural progression of confessing that Jesus is the Messiah. Again, this week, the Disciples are not thinking like God. The way the Disciples can seek the Lord’s favor should be through radical servant leadership. Only when we accept what it means that Jesus is the Messiah can we be servants of all. Discipleship, specifically servant leadership, therefore is the necessary outcome of confessing that Jesus is the Messiah.
Servant leadership like Jesus teaches should be evident in our relationships and our decision making. The world’s model of leadership is management from the top down. The Biblical model of leadership is servanthood. Servant leadership turns our understanding of leadership upside down. Jesus taught the Disciples that in order to be the most favored in His kingdom they must serve.
The third week of the month is probably the busiest for me. It is also my favorite week. I have lunch with the Decatur-area Disciples women clergy on Tuesday. I have lunch with the Disciples ministers from the surrounding area on Wednesday. And, I have breakfast with Bethany ministers on Thursday. It’s a lot of eating, but I like table fellowship. I enjoy meeting with my colleagues to share in the joys and burdens of ministry. We learn from one another best practices for ministry. We talk about the concerns of our communities and our churches. We talk about how we can help each other.
On Thursday, I had an especially great meeting with the Bethany ministers. We really work well together. Coming in December, we are going to send a postcard to everyone, and I mean everyone, in Bethany inviting them to come to a Christmas service. It is coming from the ministerial alliance and will list the Christmas Eve services for all the churches in town.
Only when churches work well together could we do a project like this. If we were posturing for all the unchurched people in town for our church, then we couldn’t do this project. We recognize that there are enough people in need of Jesus for all of us. We don’t need to compete for new Christians. The truth is, collectively, we don’t have enough room for everyone in Bethany to come to our churches. If everyone in Bethany became Christians and started coming to the churches, we’d all need to build new buildings! Wouldn’t that be a site to behold!
In all of our outreach, we don’t do it for the sole purpose of growing our church. I have heard from more than one of you that we need to do outreach for the purpose of reaching people for Christ. That tells me that we are honestly seeking to make Disciples and not posturing for people.
I don’t think any of the churches try to compete with one another. No one has added an Easter Egg hunt, because we already do one. The CP church does a trunk-or-treat at Halloween. The Free Methodists did a cross walk on Good Friday. We don’t all need to do these things separately because we are all doing these things for the glory of God, not to be the best church.
Talking blue skies with BMA – iWorship Center à youth center
No church big enough to do it alone; together we’re big enough to do it
I want to do something so big that it becomes a model for small churches in small communities on how to do youth outreach.
We don’t do what we do for our own glory; we do it for the glory of God.
Let’s serve the little ones of Bethany.