22 February 2011

Mark 9:30-37

"Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me." (v. 37)


It's easy to make fun of the Jesus' disciples as they are portrayed in the Mark's Gospel. They are an uncomprehending bunch of men, failing time and again to grasp what Jesus is about. They require detailed explanations of Jesus' parables; they are consistently blind to the implications of Jesus' ministry and to the inevitably of the conflict and pain that it will stir up.

The first time Jesus foretold his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31), Peter (surely speaking for all the disciples) took him to one side and told him to stop talking such nonsense. For his pains, Peter received a sharp rebuke from Jesus, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things" (Mark 8:33).

That episode is echoed in these verses, in which the disciples' failure to understand what Jesus is submitting himself to gives way to a discussion about their own relative merits as disciples. It's a discussion that, as Jesus explains, is at best irrelevant and at worst puerile. May it also be a way of avoiding the inevitable? Is it possible that the disciples ignore Jesus' increasingly insistent predictions of his trial and death because they are afraid of what it may mean for themselves?

For the Jesus of Mark's Gospel, humility is about following a path that leads to crucifixion. It's a path that contradicts all our human instincts for personal preservation. Yet, by drawing a child into the centre of their conversation, Jesus highlights the vulnerability in all of us and heightens our sense of dependence on God. 

To Ponder

When have you felt most dependent on God? Has it coincided with a feeling of vulnerability - and, if so, what can we learn from that?

Is there a time when you have avoided following a path that you felt God was calling you to? How might you have dealt with that situation differently?

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.