Reading: Mark 9:30-37
What has happened since last we visited the Gospel and witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop? There has been a lengthy recording of Jesus expelling an evil spirit from a young boy. Remember the tension of faith and belief that is very much part of the disciples’ journey? Well this episode concludes in the most dramatic way. The disciples are unable to remove the spirit and Jesus learns the boy has been like this since birth. The boy’s father asks for pity and Jesus says all things are possible for those who believe. I believe the man exclaims help me overcome my disbelief. Jesus commands the spirit out and the disciples question why they couldn’t do it. We pick up the story as they move on through Galilee.
There is now private teaching taking place for the disciples about Jesus dying and rising again. We are told once more they did not understand and where afraid to ask. At what could be argued Jesus most popular time as crowds were flocking to see and hear him he speaks again about pain and hurt and dying. Suffering and death were simply not on the radar screen of the disciples. They could not, would not understand. Even though every mention of his dying was countered with the assurance of his resurrection neither concept sat easy with the disciples. That is of course until he did die and was risen. Much of his teaching now is centred on his upcoming passion. But still there are tensions. Who will be the greatest they wanted to know. In effect the debate was centred on the question, who amongst us will be the new leader if Jesus dies? Is it any wonder they kept quiet when Jesus asked them what the argument was about?
True greatness is seen in humble service. And further teaching that does all of us good to hear followed. If you want to be a leader you first need to be a servant and that famous, ‘the first shall be last’ statement. Of course there needs to be leaders in all different aspects of life and that includes church. Jesus is saying it should not be the be all and end all to be the leader because as we need the leaders in life so too we need those who are not leaders. Matthew’s gospel says, ‘who ever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.’ Here in Mark’s gospel, once more, we see the teaching of Jesus turn the world’s ideals on their heads. By taking the young child, an innocent one, into his arms Jesus gives a very visual explanation of the words he has spoken, similar in fact to the whole transfiguration account where the seeing of Jesus in all his glory, accompanied by the prophets and the law, recounts his teaching in words to the disciples. A child does not try to make themselves great. Jesus spoke Aramaic where the word used for child or servant is the same. To be a servant, or a disciple, you must first become like a child. Whoever receives that child, that is disciple, in the name of Jesus, receives Jesus himself and in receiving him receives God also. In the act of humbling ourselves we open up the possibility for Jesus to use us in the building of his kingdom.
Reading: Mark 9:38-41
Here we have an age old problem in the church. As we read this morning we discover something that has been there right from the very first days. Something that in fact over the years we have entrenched ourselves in and has been the cause of the biggest, longest, deepest, most painful episodes of church.
Remember the disciples could not rid the young boy of the evil spirit. Here they are now falling out with someone who is able to do so on another occasion. Their reason for doing so? Teacher we told him to stop because he is not one of us. And there we have it folks. ‘He’s no yin oh oo.’ How many times has that been the passport either into or out of a situation, into or out of church communities? Across the worldwide Christian Church how many denominations have been split asunder as one side claims they’re not the same as us, they have to stop doing what they are doing because that is not the way we do it and we know we are the ones that are doing it properly. Are we to think that the disciples thought they were the only true group, the only ones who followed Jesus in a proper fashion? Witnessing this other person from somewhere else their first instinct is to try and stop him. Yes, in chapter one, Jesus called the disciples to follow him, yes, in chapter three, Jesus appointed them as apostles, yes, in chapter six, Jesus sent them out into the mission field. We are told in Luke’s gospel Jesus also sent out another seventy-two. Towards the end of Mark, in chapter thirteen, Jesus tells his disciples, ‘the gospel must first be preached to all nations.’ A timely reminder, if ever it were needed more, the gospel was not a treasure for them and them alone just as it is not for us and us alone. This going out to all different people will quite naturally mean encountering different outlooks in life from traditions held in one place to understanding things in relation and in context to the culture of these places and people. Remember too, we are in amongst the ‘all nations’ that is being referred to here, the Gospel in set in another part of the world and to a different set of people than us. As long as the gospel is proclaimed in truth and in Jesus’ name then all of his children have the authority to carry out his works for the building of the kingdom. Division and controversy have journeyed with the church when this attitude of one being right whilst the other is wrong and again I repeat, ‘He’s no yin oh oo.’ Is enough to drive a wedge that splits wide and long. And has the capabilities of leaving a very bitter aftertaste in the minds of many who have encountered it. Christ will not forget the work that is done in his name, even what may appear to some as a small act can be great and bring glory to God. The reward received from Christ will not be reliant on the size of the work we have done but rather it will be in accordance with the love in which it was offered to others. Now the Gospel and the teaching is centred on Jerusalem and the events that will take place in the great city. We will continue journey together with Jesus, his followers, the crowds who are for and against him, those who await him in the city ready to do their worst upon him and we will learn more so much more about our Lord as we journey.