The Greatest

Weekly Lectionary takes a look (sometimes brief, sometimes longer, sometimes odd) at one of the lectionary passages for the upcoming Sunday. This week we're looking at the gospel passage of Mark 9:30-37.

My mind works in weird ways sometimes. Rather, it probably works in weird ways most of the time because I'll read a gospel text and it will play out like an episode of Full House in my head. I'll get to that in a moment.

The passage begins with Jesus reminding his disciples that he will be betrayed and executed. Such a devastatingly dehumanizing prospect sets up what is to follow which is an argument over who is the greatest. The cross makes those conversations silly talk. When God submits to being executed like a common criminal it sort of blows up the idea of greatness. The disciples didn't get that. Not yet.

The text mentioning that Jesus was in the house is likely what made me filter the latter part of the passage through cheesy family sitcom lens. Let me intersperse my imagination (italics) with the actual scripture (bold italics).

Our scene is a bunch of the disciples in a room together. What starts as a friendly argument about who is the greatest turns into a shoving match in which an expensive lamp is knocked to the floor and shattered. Immediately, the canned laughter from the studio audience turns into a united "Oooooooooh..." Then Jesus walks through the front door.

And when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about?" (It says "arguing about on the way" in Mark, I took some liberties here)

But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

The disciples clam up. One begins to say something, but another disciple clasps his hand over their mouth. The studio audience chuckles. Jesus looks around the room. All of the disciples are staring at the floor.

He (Jesus) sat down, called the twelve, and said to them...

"Family Learning Moment" music begins to softly play in the background. Jesus picks up a small child who is playing in the living room. The studio audience lets out an overwhelming "Awwwww..."

And I'll stop it right there because what Jesus says about being a servant and welcoming a child often gets lost in the shuffle. First of all, we have to remember that, in the time of Jesus, children were not viewed in the way they are today. There were not seen as immensely important. Whitney Houston had not yet declared them the future. In that day and time, children they did not have great value.

Thus for Jesus to equate welcoming such an unimportant individual to welcoming him was counterintuitive. Same for declaring that whoever wanted to be first had to be last and earlier reminding his followers that he was going to be crucified. This trio reveals rather emphatically that Jesus believed that servanthood and humility were the way one was to live in obedience to God. This is not grandstanding or religious piety on display for all to see. It is being willing to let yourself be counted among those that society most often ignores, which in this trilogy were criminals, servants, and children.

It must have struck the disciples as odd and it probably strikes us as odd too. Take those words out of Jesus' mouth, put them in someone else's, and there would be a great temptation to write them off. How do we think of greatness in this country? When Donald Trump declares that he wants to make America great again, I highly doubt that he means that we become a country that lives in humble service.

How do we think of greatness in our churches? I find myself wondering how I define a "great" church and how that squares with the definition that Jesus preached and demonstrated.

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