Jesus and the Disciples had been in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus was healing and teaching. From there, they went on their way passing through Galilee. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the Disciples are always on the move. They went here. They did that. Then, they went there. They are constantly on the move following Jesus as He heals, preaches, and teaches.
Leading up to this text today, Jesus heals a blind man, drives out a spirit from a boy, and tries to convey to the Disciples that He will suffer and die. We know the Disciples didn’t understand what Jesus was saying. The first time Jesus tries to tell them what’s coming, Peter took Jesus aside and said, “Hey man, this stuff you’re saying is going to happen isn’t going to happen. Don’t say those things.” Jesus responds with, “Get behind me, Satan!”
Now, the Disciples are following Jesus through Galilee and Jesus stops to teach them. He wants to tell them again that He will be betrayed, will suffer and die, but will be raised again. Before, He had told them quite openly what laid ahead of Him. This time, He tries to do it quietly hoping they would understand this time, maybe ask some questions about how this will happen. But, they Disciples don’t understand and don’t ask questions.
Then, they leave and come to Capernaum. See, these guys are always on the move. In Capernaum, Jesus asks the Disciples what they were arguing about on the way. Notice, He didn’t say, “what were you discussing on the road?” Jesus asks, “What were you arguing about?” And, they were silent. They were silent because they knew they were arguing about stuff they shouldn’t have been arguing about, maybe stuff they should have already known the answer to. But, Jesus already knew what they had been arguing about.
Jesus sits down with the Disciples to teach them about who is the greatest. He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” If they had been listening to what Jesus had been saying all along, they should have already known this. Another thing about the Gospel of Mark is that Mark likes to point out how clueless the Disciples were. They had been following Him and never really understood what He was saying.
Had they really been listening to Jesus and understood Him, they would have known that Jesus would be raised from the dead when He was killed. They wouldn’t have been distraught with grief or afraid for their lives after the crucifixion. They would have been expecting the resurrection. Instead, when Jesus was raised they were astonished, they were shocked, because they didn’t know that was what Jesus had been talking about when He said He would be raised again.
I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on the resurrection. They were expecting a completely different Messiah, one who would restore the Davidic kingdom of Israel and redeem Israel from Roman occupation and oppression. But, this servant thing they should have understood. Jesus was constantly talking about servanthood. They should have known that the greatest would be the least. He said that numerous times and modeled it for them in everything He did.
But, Jesus, in this teaching, is saying that one’s greatness goes beyond servanthood to hospitality. Jesus calls a child to come to Him and takes the child into His arms. He says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in My Name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes Me welcomes not Me but the One who sent Me.” Greatness comes with hospitality and servanthood.
I think often when we read this text about Jesus welcoming the little children we think of ourselves as the Disciples and think about all the children’s ministry we can do so that we can welcome the children as Christ proclaimed we should do. Maybe that’s why so much of our ministry is focused on outreach to children. We do a lot for kids. The Easter egg hunt, kids’ movie night, vacation Bible school, collecting school supplies, making sure we have kid friendly food in the food pantry. We do a lot to invite kids to the church and extend to them hospitality.
What if? I want us to consider this text from another perspective. What if we are the children who are to be welcomed? What if we are the children Jesus welcomes?
When we think of the children in this text, we might think of the cute babies in flower pots of Anne Geddes’ photos. We might think of little kids in white clothes looking angelic. We think of well-behaved children.
We don’t think of sick, snotty, coughing children. We don’t think of the kid who has thrown himself on the floor of the grocery store wailing because he’s not getting Fruity Pebbles. We don’t think of the kid seated behind us on the plane that kicks the back of our seat for the entire 3 hour flight. We want to think of little angels, not snot nosed kids.
Imagine all the things we pray about in addition to the joys and concerns we lift up on behalf of others. Think about what we pray for ourselves. I don’t know about you, but I can get real whiny and selfish in my prayers for myself. I think Jesus may hear my prayers and see a snot nosed little temper tantrum throwing child with a smart mouth who knows it all instead of a little angel.
But, Jesus welcomes us just as we are. And, Jesus thinks these little children are greater than the Disciples who have given up everything to follow Him around the country side sleeping on people’s couches. Little children are greater than His closest friends.
Perhaps Jesus likes the little kids so much because they are curious. Children are willing to ask questions that adults aren’t willing to ask. Children ask questions when they don’t understand something but adults are afraid to ask questions. Adults don’t want to ask questions because we think we’re supposed to already know the answer. We think everyone else knows the answer and we don’t want to look like we haven’t been paying attention. We don’t want to ask stupid questions.
But, kids ask questions, lots of questions. The average 4 year old asks between 300 – 500 questions per day while the average adult asks 100 questions per day. It seems as we get older we stop asking so many questions. And, I think Jesus likes us to ask questions and hoped that the Disciples would ask questions about the things they didn’t understand like why or when He was going to suffer, die and rise.
So, let’s be like innocent little children and ask some questions. A few years ago. I can’t believe I’ve been here long enough to say a few years ago. A few years ago. I asked you to throw out some questions that you’d like some answers to. I asked you to speak aloud your questions and I preached a series of sermons trying to answer your questions.
This time, I’d like you to write down your questions anonymously and place them in the offering plate face down so no one can read your question. I may not have the opportunity to preach sermons that try to answer your questions. The truth is I may be struggling to answer those questions myself. I’m not going to pass around a basket now to collect your questions. I’d like you to place your questions in the offering plate, because I want your questions to be an offering to God of your curious innocence and deeply theological ponderings.
I’ll give you a few minutes to think about a question and write it down.
A few weeks ago, a child asked me a question. I have been pondering that question for weeks. I still don’t think I have a sufficient answer. It is an inquiry that questions why we do the things we do and don’t do other things. It asks how we define certain things putting one thing in one category and another thing in a separate category. It questions what our authority is and what we pay homage to. It is so controversial that I won’t answer the question in a sermon. All that philosophical and theological thought from a child. No wonder Jesus likes kids so much.