23 September 2012

Mark 9:30-37

"He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, 'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'" (vv. 35-37)


Jesus has just healed a boy whose condition was attributed to an evil spirit (verses 14-29), and is now returning to his Galilee ministry base in Capernaum; the house referred to in verse 33 is probably Peter's (Mark 1:29). Quite often Mark's Gospel shows Jesus wanting people to keep his healing ministry secret because it risks them embracing a deficient view of his mission, but here the reason why he doesn't want people to know he's back home appears to be because he wants time to teach the twelve disciples privately.

The heart of his teaching concerns his forthcoming death and resurrection. This is the second of three attempts that Jesus makes to get across this truth about the nature and outcome of his mission; the others are in 8:31 and 10:33-34. On the first occasion Peter rebuked him for suggesting such a scenario; this time there are no outbursts but we are told that they didn't understand but were afraid to ask (verse 32). Perhaps this is because they felt it would upset Jesus to say more or more likely because they were in denial in relation to his determination to take such a path.

This passion prediction is briefer than the first; the word "betrayed" (v. 31) means 'handed over' or 'delivered up', and when it came about, whilst Judas's betrayal handed Jesus over to the Jewish council (Mark 14:43-51), that council subsequently delivered him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1), and Pilate handed him over to the soldiers for execution (Mark 15:6-15). But the word might also be hinting at the real truth that God gave Jesus up for our sins, as stated in Romans 8:32 (See also Romans 4:25Isaiah 53:6).

The concept of precedence or priority was important etiquette in relation to such matters as speaking first at Synagogue or in a law court, or who served themselves first at a meal. But the disciples' silence in verse 34 suggests they feel some shame at arguing about which of them is most important. Jesus turns on its head all received wisdom on the issue. Children were given very little significance in the Greek/Roman culture of those times, so the visual aid Jesus uses to teach is very powerful. "In my name" could mean 'because the welcoming one is a believer' or 'because the child represents me', or 'because this is what I want to happen'.

In John's Gospel Jesus often describes himself as sent by God (eg John 8:28-29), as he does at the end of this passage, but see also Mark 12:6.

To Ponder

  • Are there things that you are afraid to ask Jesus (verse 32)? What are they, and why is that?
  • In what areas of your life are you tempted to argue (either in conversation or to yourself) that you are greater or better than someone else?
  • What might it mean in practice for you to be "last of all and servant of all" (verse 35)?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Stephen Mosedale

Stephen Mosedale is a recently retired Methodist minister now living in Devon. He is enjoying the freedom that gives, whenever mood and weather dictsate, to walk on Dartmoor, photograph varied and ever-changing seascapes, or grow vegetables in the garden.