17th Sunday after Pentecost

September 19, 2021


Mark 9:30-37   17th Sunday after Pentecost   Ascension / Ipswich / ZOOM   19/9/21


Because a person needs it


They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And [Jesus] did not want anyone to know, 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.” But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.


And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 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.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” (Mark 9:30-37 ESV)


How would you feel if you were talking about someone’s death and life after their death and the person you’re discussing hears you? This isn’t a discussion with that person but about that person. How would you feel?


I suppose it depends on what you say – and there is a big difference between ‘I don’t know how I will go on’ and ‘thank goodness, about time!’. 


Now, just imagine for a moment, that you are the person being talked about – perhaps your condition is terminal – how would you feel hearing how others think they will go on without you? Again, I suppose it depends on what you hear – especially if this is the first time you’re hearing it.


When it comes to serious illness, dying, and death it is very good to talk – yes, it is hard and socially today it is possibly still the biggest taboo topic where people struggle to talk about such situations – but it is very healthy for relationships for there to be honest communication between those in the shadow of death and those around them. 


It was hard for the disciples, it seems, because Jesus is talking again – this isn’t the first time – about his death – the death of the Son of Man – not of old age, not of natural causes, but from violence. Jesus didn’t leave it there – with his death – but also told them that on the third day he will rise. If this isn’t an opening to a conversation, I don’t know what is – but the disciples are silent. They don’t understand. Why is Jesus going on about this? Peter tried to dissuade Jesus once but that didn’t go down well. So the disciples are silent before Jesus because they are afraid to ask him. Fear really does cripple so much living and even faith itself.


But – and here is something important – the disciples are not silent among themselves! Good, we might think. At least they are talking to each other. But when in the house, Jesus asks them what they were talking about they are silent again. This time, I think, we can understand embarrassment, even shame – because they were talking about themselves – actually arguing among themselves about … which of them was the greatest! 


It isn’t hard to imagine what is going on. They recognise Jesus isn’t going to be around much longer so who is going to keep the ministry, the ‘kingdom work’ going? Who will Jesus’ appoint as his successor? If the Messianic Kingdom is coming with Jesus – and he is not present – what cabinet positions might they have – but probably the big issue was ‘Who would be Prime Minister?’. Jesus isn’t dead yet and they are arguing about themselves and greatness!


So Jesus sits down – the social position for the teacher – so class take note – “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all”. They heard it, we hear it but what does it mean really?


So Jesus gets up and takes a child – we assume a toddler – we assume a child of the house – and Jesus sets the toddler down in the midst of the disciples – and because they’re indoors I imagine the disciples standing and so they’re looking down and the toddler is looking up. What’s going on? We don’t know! How is the little one reacting? How are the disciples reacting? 


All we have are the next words after placing the little child in the midst of the disciples – and taking him in his arms, [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” What do you see? That Jesus has the child in his arms! No disciple was holding the child. No disciple bent down to the child. Jesus is holding the child and says that receiving this child is receiving him and receiving him is receiving God. 


Socially this would have been women’s work but that’s not the point – though 

it is a good context to keep in mind – Jesus is holding the child because the child needed holding! Jesus held the child not for what the child could do for him but because the child needed holding. Jesus held the child not to look good or to get some personal gratification but because the child needed holding. This tiny little scene speaks volumes about Jesus’ view of discipleship, of greatness, and of what you do in the face of Jesus’ death – his apparent absence – see a need and serve. Life in Jesus’ version of the Kingdom of God is about service – serving others – and not about climbing the ladder of success – especially in comparison with your peers.


As with so much of Jesus’ teaching, there are no specific details about what to do in this or that situation. Jesus, very often, presents a social landscape in which we walk in our relationships. And in this case, Jesus is talking about the attitude and the perspective of service – being a servant of others.


The key here is to remember that you are not being forced. No one can make you have this attitude. The world may force us to comply or serve in certain ways but that is not what Jesus is doing. He is saying that his followers consider every relationship – we live in many relationships – child, spouse, parent, employee, employer, neighbour, friend, church member, citizen, and more – but often deal with them one at time – and that is what Jesus is pointing out – that serving others can happen in each situation and relationship of the day. Discipleship is not a ‘head game’ but a lifestyle. We don’t see Jesus and he doesn’t need our service but those around us, those we do see, can benefit from our service. And we serve because the person needs it.


We are secure in our relationship with Jesus – after all, he always serves us – he did it on the cross – and so death is not the tyrant to be feared anymore – and Jesus does it still through words, water, bread and wine. I wouldn’t even say that our service of others is because we’re not doing it ‘for Jesus’ – a secret look-at-me – but rather we are living ‘with Jesus’ through faith and there next to us is a person we see needing something we can do to help them live well or better. 


This time of worship – and our time of Bible reading, prayer, and meditation – are the times when Jesus serves us – and then confident and secure of Jesus’ grace and love and presence we get up, go out and live – because that’s essentially what we are talking about – our life – living – in this world now – day by day – and with Jesus, the greatest life is one of serving – simply because a person needs it.

Bible References

  • Mark 9:30 - 37