Who is the Greatest?

Mark 9:30-37

Jesus Again Foretells Death, Resurrection

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.

Who Is the Greatest?

33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

So you want to be somebody??

Recently, I was reading an article that included a piece where children were asked what they would change if they were in charge of the world. Some of the highlights included, “I’d cancel oatmeal, getting up early for school, shots at the doctor. If I were in charge of the world, there’d be more video games, dogs wouldn’t get sick, and basketball baskets would be lower. If I were in charge of the world everyone would be friends. There would be no bedtimes and no sisters. If I were in charge of the world, ice cream would be a vegetable. All James Bond movies would be rated G. And a person who sometimes forgot to brush or flush, would still be allowed to be in charge of the world.

Most of us would concede that being in charge of the world is a stretch, but we do all want to be something great. We all want to be truly somebody who matters, who counts. It’s kind of a fun day dream to think about what it would mean or what we might do if we were truly great, and it’s exactly where we find the disciples in our Gospel lesson.

Disciples are arguing about who is greatest. They have begun to believe that Jesus is literally the promised savior and there is a lot of excitement surrounding that. The problem is that they are arguing for something that doesn’t exist. The way they are arguing it’s as if they are on the bandwagon of believing that Jesus would be a military hero and conquer all the known world and overrun the Romans. So the question they’re asking would have, if that were the case, some lasting impact. Who would get to rule over which areas as Jesus representatives. That’s the question they’re asking. They’re dreaming of wealth and power beyond their wildest dreams. They, for perhaps the first time in their lives, were dreaming of realistically being somebody- having in power- being in charge...Is this really all that bad?

Ambition is what put man on the moon. It’s what keeps scientists in their laboratories. It’s what keeps doctors in the hospitals. It’s what places missionaries on the mission field. If humanity didn’t have ambition, this desire to better ourselves and our environment, we would still be living in the stone ages. Ambition, in and of itself, is not wrong. It’s to what we direct our ambition that is the ultimate question. As a child, dreaming big is amazing and the sky's the limit. The lord can bless that abundantly. Dreaming of being a wonderful spouse, parent, friend, neighbor, or simply always stretching yourself for something a bit out of reach can be very beneficial.

We all want to be somebody. We all want to feel like the greatest something- this is not inherently sinful. In fact dreaming big can be a healthy way to fully utilize the gifts that God has given to you. These things are fine but they can fast become sinful in all kinds of ways.

Here is where we can go wrong- We become just like the disciples when we look around at a youth soccer game and think about how wonderful it is that you’re there and involved so much more than the other parents. We become just like these disciples when we’re sitting in a meeting look around and think about what a struggle it is to so regularly be the smartest or most diligent one in the room. We become just like these disciples when we look around on Sunday morning and think about who is here and who is not and how great it is that we are here so much more regularly than so many other people. Comparing ourselves to others to put yourself up by putting others down is where we all too often get wrapped up in the sin of our text.

Jesus is reminding his disciples that he will have to die as a sacrifice and that he does not have much time. Immediately after this, we find the disciples confused and going back to their prideful discussion. Jesus has to intervene. Jesus has to fix this- For them and for us.

So Jesus goes home- to what is possibly his own house and definitely where he lived. So in the comfort of home, Jesus sits down and gathers the disciples around him seated- this was the posturing of the most serious of teaching situations- they might have gathered that they were in trouble here, but Jesus doesn’t scold them. Jesus has seen the way the world works. Jesus understands the disciples condition. So he redirects them to the truth.

Jesus tells them that to be truly great- to really be somebody- one must become a servant. Mark is unique with the embrace of the child-Children had no rights. Children were forgotten. They were among the lowest in the social ladder. They would be the last to be fed in a famine, the last to be saved in a natural disaster. They were nobody to anybody in society. But! They were somebody to Jesus. So when Jesus heals children, and embraces children he is doing something revolutionary- he is showing the disciples and us how to be somebody. To be somebody we need to build up and defend somebody, serve somebody. So when we serve one another we become somebody to them, one by one.

Jesus embodies this for us all. This is the lesson of our entire text. He predicts his own death- a death for the sins of the whole world- and none of his own. He takes the punishment for every single time that pride gets in the way in our lives. He places himself as a sacrificial victim in the hands of lowly sinners for you. So he shows all of us the we are somebody- because we are everything to him. Amen.


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