20 September 2015

“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)

Psalm: Psalm 54


This is part of the longer exploration in Mark's Gospel of the nature of power and authority. The disciples are usually getting it wrong, which is a humbling thing for them to remember. They don't understand what Jesus was on about and they were yet to know of the painful reality of his teaching. Mark's Gospel has to be read not only 'as is', that is the teaching and stories about Jesus, but as it was written and heard. The first hearers did understand and did know. They knew about the betrayal, the death and the resurrection. They also had begun to understand what kind of Messiah Jesus was among them. I find it surprising that the Church's early leadership were willing to be represented in this way, but they must have been because Mark's account of the gospel places them very firmly as people who kept getting it wrong.

I also find it moving that this far from obvious interpretation of what love looks like resonated so strongly with their experience as a newly formed Christian community. Looking back on what Jesus said and did made a profound sense to these early communities because it resonated with their actual experience. Some have argued that 'children' may refer to the 'new Christians' - an early vulnerable and naïve group of believers. But it also refers to a simpler understanding of children. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would have had any sort of sentimental view of children, and his reference to them is perhaps a hard-nosed recognition that children were powerless, often ignored, and at the bottom of any hierarchy. These early Christians must have surely felt they were often all these things themselves. The encouragement in this passage is that feeling that is the only way to encounter God, and an injunction to treat others with kindness and a welcome.

To Ponder

  • Where do you feel powerless and vulnerable? And how does this help you understand God better?
  • How can we welcome those who are powerless and vulnerable?

Bible notes author:  The Revd Dr Mark Wakelin

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