Monday, October 15, 2018
First and Last
Over the last several weeks, our gospel lessons from Mark have included many references to children. On Sep. 23 (Proper 20), after learning that the disciples had been arguing over which one of them was the greatest, he put a child in their midst and told them that welcoming a child means welcoming him and the one who sent him. The following week, Sep. 30 (Proper 21), still holding a child in his arms, he said, "If you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones, it would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea." Two Sundays ago, Oct. 7 (Proper 22), after offering a harsh teaching on divorce, Jesus rebukes his disciples for not allowing children to come to him, reminding them that one must receive God's kingdom like a child or else not enter it at all. Yesterday, Oct. 14 (Proper 23), when the disciples were perplexed and astounded at Jesus' teaching on wealth, he affectionately called them children to add a tender, loving tone to his challenging words.
There's more. On Sep. 9 (Proper 18), Jesus said to the Gentile woman, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs," but the woman, undeterred, accepted the framework she had been presented and adopted a posture of deep humility in order to get what she needed. Then, on Sep. 16 (Proper 19), after Peter identified Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus told his followers to deny themselves and take up their cross in order to follow him. This coming Sunday, Oct. 21 (Proper 24), seemingly having learned nothing over the past several chapters of Mark, James and John will approach Jesus and ask if they can sit at his right and left in his kingdom. Again, Jesus teaches them the upside-down nature of God's reign: "whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
I don't recall noticing before how persistent Mark is in showing us that following Jesus means becoming like a child, like a servant, like one who is last among us. I recognize that theme throughout the four-fold gospel, but I don't think the repetition in the lectionary has ever stuck out to me like this. What does that mean?
It means that, in one way or another, we've had two months to hear Jesus inviting us to become like him by becoming servant of all. It means we've had plenty of chances to see that entering the reign of God requires child-like wonder and humility. It means we're getting closer and closer to Jerusalem and won't have many more chances to learn how to follow Jesus before he is taken from us. It means that some counter-cultural, counter-instinctive lessons are harder to learn than others. It means that God is gracious and recognizes that we need to be taught some things again and again and again.
I'm not preaching this week, but I'm in awe of how clear the call to become a servant has resonated in our lessons for the last seven weeks. I'm asking God to open my heart to receive that invitation as fully as it has been presented to me.