A reading from Mark 9:30-37
New Revised Standard Version
Jesus Again Foretells His Death and Resurrection
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Who Is the Greatest?
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
This is the Gospel of the lord.
“Among the many fabled and accomplished tribes of East Africa, there is no tribe considered to have warriors more fearsome or more intelligent than the mighty Maasai. The tribe is unique and popular due to their long preserved culture.
Despite education, civilization and western cultural influences, the Maasai people have clung to their traditional way of life—making them a symbol of Kenyan culture.
So it is not surprising, then, to learn that the traditional greeting passed among the Maasai warriors; “Kasserian Engeri,” translated “And how are the children?” is still the traditional greeting used today. This greeting acknowledges the high value that the Maasai place on children’s well-being.
Even warriors with no children of their own give the traditional answer, “All the children are well,” meaning that peace and safety prevail; the priorities of protecting the young and the powerless are in place; that the Maasai people have not forgotten their reason for being. Their proper function and their responsibilities.
“All the children are well” means life is good.
It means the daily struggles of existence—even among the poor and the marginalized—are seen. That the village is committed to providing proper care for those (who are) incapable of providing for themselves.”[i]
This is a question I am afraid to answer. Jesus states that we must welcome a child. We must become as servants. Yet how many of us even have a concept of what this may mean? I think we need to understand what it means to be servants and slave then we must ask ourselves what does it mean to welcome a child? What does it mean to be hospitable to a child? What does it mean to ask “how are the Children?” and can we answer “the Children are well.”
“The word in the New Testament usually translated as “servant” actually means “slave,” and referred to someone who was owned or controlled by someone else, not just a servant hired to do a certain job. Some slaves performed menial household tasks. Others, called “stewards,” supervised the work of lesser servants or managed the master’s finances. In the time of Jesus, some people were slaves because they were born to slave parents. Others were captured in war and were forced to become slaves. Some people actually sold themselves as slaves because they could have a higher standard of life as a slave than if they had to keep struggling to find housing or food on their own.
Some slaves were better educated than their masters and served as teachers of their master’s children. Slaves of rich masters had all kinds of opportunities that they would never have had on their own. But slaves had no freedom, and their owners could do with them whatever they wanted, including selling them to someone else. After slaves became 30 years old, many would become “freedmen,” with duties to the former master and his family. Some slaves earned enough money to buy their own freedom, which would mean that their children could be free also.”[ii]
For the most part your life is not your own. You belong to someone else and you do as they wish. You follow their commands…now there might be something there…
Professor of biblical theology at Princeton, C Clifton black reminds us that “Last week’s Gospel lection, Mark 8:27-38, jabbed three sharp barbs:
Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, murder, and resurrection (8:31)
Peter’s repudiation of Jesus’ destiny (8:32)
Jesus’ rebuttal of Peter and command that his followers take up their crosses (8:33-38).
This week the same pattern recurs:
Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal, murder, and resurrection (9:31)
The disciples’ incomprehension of their teacher’s teaching (9:32-34)
Jesus’ correction of the Twelve with a surprising definition of discipleship (9:35-37).
In case Mark’s audience has failed as miserably as the Twelve to get the point, the same scheme unfolds in Chapter 10: prediction (verses 33-34), misunderstanding (verses 35-39a), readjustment (verses 39b-45).
Why this repetition? Two reasons. First: Discipleship in Mark is hard to accept. Second: In this Gospel Jesus’ closest followers are so dense that light bends around them.”[iii]
Again, one can hear why discipleship is so hard to accept. Jesus is literally telling them your life can no longer be yours…you are not number one! And worse you must become as a servant/slave.
Mark really does not have a high opinion of the disciples nor their capabilities. Jesus has laid out the pattern which he will follow. As a matter of fact he has told them over and over again.
‘But they did not understand [Jesus’] saying [in 9:31], and they were afraid to ask him’ (9:32). What’s not to understand? Jesus has already said much the same in 8:33-38. But the Twelve in Mark’s Gospel never understand Jesus (4:13; 6:52; 8:17, 21). In fact, the last words uttered by Peter, last of the twelve hangers-on, is, ‘I neither know nor understand what you mean’ (14:66). This claim, asserted outside the house where Jesus is betrayed by his countrymen, is a chicken-hearted lie that captures the ironic truth. As for the disciples’ fear to ask (9:32), that too is true to form: throughout Mark they are scared spitless (4:40-41; 6:50; 9:6; 10:32; 16:8). Those with faith in Jesus have nothing to fear (4:40-41; 5:33-34, 36), but not once does Mark ever attribute faith to the Twelve (compare the usually nameless nobodies in 2:5; 5:34; 9:24; 10:52).”[iv]
Basically, for mark the 12 are the fools. The chosen are not capable. Nameless nobodies…the crowd who lowers the paralyzed man, because of their faith healed him…The woman who touched Jesus clothes; “Daughter your faith has made you well…” Jesus says to a father “If you are able – all things can be done for one who believes…” the man’s son is healed of a demon. The Blind man asks to see and Jesus tells him Go; your faith has made you well”
All these miracles of faith happen to the nameless, to those who live outside of society. You see it was their illness and or their family’s illness that made them outcasts and shunned and nameless.
“Immediately after Jesus has reminded them of his impending humiliation, his followers are shamed to silence: they’ve been quarreling over which of them is tops in their own pecking order (9:33-34). Given antiquity’s preoccupation with social status—not so very distant from our own—that debate is predictable. But in Mark’s context, it’s nonsensical, since Jesus is superior to them all. Disregarding the General, these foot soldiers’ bicker over their respective ranks. The picture is clear: those with the greatest benefit of Jesus’ instruction set for themselves low standards and consistently fail to achieve them.”[v] In other words the disciples are arguing over what is not at all important and as far as Jesus’ teachings go this is absolutely a waste of anyone’s time…except ours for it serves as a reminder to fucus on the lessons, Jesus’ message.
So to prove his point Jesus invites a child into the circle. The verse says he places a child among them. To be counted among something or placed among something can bring an image of equality. “Primer interpares.” The first among equals. Jesus is placing the child among those quarreling over first place and says here is first place. This is how you become first.
“just as the saving of one’s life requires its sacrifice for the gospel’s sake, so too does primacy in discipleship demand taking a place last of all, as everyone’s servant (9:35)…
A child epitomizes the most subservient human in ancient society, one with slightest status. In Jesus’ presence a little child literally has ‘standing’.”[vi]
So this begs the question I opened with how are the children. Do we welcome a child as a one of the first disciples? Do we honor our Children by leaving them a better world? A safer world? It breaks my heart but many of us are failing the children of this world.
“Education Week journalists, in 2018, began tracking shootings on K-12 school property that resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths. That year, there were 24 such incidents. There were 25 in 2019.
We continued tracking school shootings in 2020, when there were 10 such incidents…The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have interrupted the trend line. That fall off in numbers is probably due to the shift to remote learning for nearly all schools for part or all of 2020.”[vii] That would seem like good news but unfortunately so has reporting of child abuse dropped because our schools are the first line of defense.
How are the Children?
Somehow the idea of childhood safety has become skewed in this light of the pandemic. People suddenly are afraid to vaccinate their children when we know vaccinations stop pandemics in their path. How many children get polio today? Or measles? or rubella. I know this is controversial but should it be? I work in health care and I am constantly being bombarded by infections and death.
“Dr. Federico Laham, medical director of infectious diseases at Arnold Palmer Hospital, says pediatric cases at the hospital have “skyrocketed” over the last few weeks. “We have seen a dramatic increased number of children especially those under 17,” Laham said. “The number of patients admitted to the hospital has tripled during this last month in August.”[viii]
How are the Children?
Finally let’s say we get beyond guns…
Let’s say the pandemic subsides…
Lets say childhood hunger is averted…
What kind of world are we leaving for the Children?
I have worked with many a non profit. I have worked at or hosted many events. When one rents a space we have a saying…leave it better than when you found it.
How are the Children?
We need to do a lot of work on our behavior. Remember we are only visiting this planet. We do not own it and we need to leave it better than when we found it.
The UCC recently passed the rights of nature… “First Congregational Church of Redlands in California became a strong advocate for it. In a letter to delegates attending the General Synod gathering, it wrote, “What this resolution of the Rights of Nature does, among many things, is put us directly in touch with our moral responsibility and profound gratitude to the Earth and all living beings, and our deep commitment to healing our society and our world in all life-affirming ways. Learning to experience our interconnectedness with ‘all relations’ is crucial.”[ix]
For the Children of this world;
we must advocate and fight for the environment…
We must advocate and fight for Gun reform…
We must advocate and fight for equal access to health care
We Must advocate and fight for food accessibility…
For the Children of this world we must become as a slave and obey the masters law…Love God and love each other as you would love yourself and follow Christs example by placing the Child among us as equal if not more important than ourselves.
Once all of this work is done and done well then when asked How are the children then and only then will we be able to answer…All the Children are well….meaning peace and safety finally prevail.