Sunday September 19, 2021
Reflection: "A Heart of Greatness"
The reading from Mark’s Gospel isn’t a very long passage, but it contains a couple of interesting stories.
They must be important messages, because they’re covered in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke).
We find the other readings in Matthew 18:1-5 and Luke 9:46-50.
The message in each Gospel is essentially the same:
“Don’t think too highly of your own importance and welcome all people to you, especially the children.”
In the earlier chapters of Mark, we read that Jesus took Peter, James & John up onto the mountain and, whilst they were up there, the disciples saw Jesus talking to Moses & Elijah before he was transfigured (ie. lit up like a dazzling white figure) and they heard God saying
“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Yet, despite this miracle, which, I’m sure, the 3 onlookers would have recounted to the other disciples, all the group could think about was themselves.
They didn’t appear to understand Jesus when Jesus said that he (ie. the Son of Man) would soon be killed, buried and would rise from the grave on the third day.
Instead of focusing on what Jesus was saying and doing, while they were walking, they argued about the preference given to three of them at the transfiguration and who, therefore was the favourite disciple.
Matters of rank were important to the Jews (remember in Luke 14:7-11 at the wedding feast.
Should the host seat the guest at the top of the table, or lower down?), so it was natural for the disciples to be concerned about their status in the coming messianic kingdom.
The disciples were still anticipating an earthly kingdom and wondering what great positions they would have.
After all, they were the chosen 12, weren’t they?
When they reach Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about whilst they walked along.
Even though they remain silent, their master knew what they had been talking about.
He calmly explained to them about how one must not only put oneself last, but be a servant to every person, in order to achieve first place in God’s kingdom.
Here, the word “servant”, as used in the reading is diakonos in Greek and it depicts one who attends to the needs of others freely, as opposed to one in a servile position (doulos, a slave).
Jesus didn’t condemn their desire to improve their position in life, but he did teach that greatness in his kingdom wasn’t determined by their status and power over others, but by what they did to help others – ie. their service.
Jesus indicated to them that they were asking each other the wrong question.
They should’ve been concerned about what they could do to serve God, not about their positions in the kingdom.
As he had done in previous lessons, Jesus used the example of a small child to emphasise his point.
Remember, in Jewish and Greco-Roman society, children were at the bottom of the social ladder.
Children had done nothing to achieve greatness, yet God loved them so much that Jesus told the disciples that by welcoming the children in his name, they would be welcoming him and, not only him, but “the one who sent him” (ie. God).
In Matthew’s account of the story, Jesus told them that they must actually change, and become like little children, or they would never be able to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
He also went on to list some pretty dire consequences if people caused the children to sin, but I’ll let you read about that on your own time – you’ll find it in Matthew Chapter 18.
If you keep reading the next few verses after today’s lesson, you’ll read that the disciples told Jesus about some random exorcist that they saw driving out demons in the master’s name.
They had told him to stop doing this, because he wasn’t one of them.
Maybe they were still smarting about their failure to drive out the demon in the young boy (read Mark 9:14-29).
Jesus told them that what the man had done was ok, because by hitching his wagon to the Jesus train, he could not then turn around and condemn Jesus.
His words were:
“Whoever is not against us, is for us.”
“Against us” and “for us” leave no room for neutrality.
If one is working for Jesus, in his name, he cannot work against him at the same time.
Though this man didn’t appear to follow Jesus in exactly the same way as the twelve disciples, he nevertheless followed him truly and stood against Satan.
Even one who performs the smallest act of hospitality in Jesus’ name, such as giving a cup of water to someone because he belongs to Christ, will certainly not lose his reward.
He will ultimately be recompensed by participation in God’s kingdom, not on the basis of merit (a good deed) but because of God’s gracious promise to people of faith.
Interestingly, Jesus uses the title “Christ” instead of “Son of Man”, which is rare in the Synoptic Gospels.
So, what can we learn from these words?
The position we have in God’s Kingdom isn’t determined by how great we are on earth, or what positions of greatness we may achieve, but by how humble we make ourselves and how we serve others and therefore God.
That we, too, can perform miracles in the name of Jesus, if we have enough faith to believe that we can.
That even small acts of kindness - like giving a cup of water to someone who is thirsty - are important in God’s eyes.
To make ourselves great in God’s eyes requires a great heart, not a great title.
Think of what positive actions you’ve taken in the past week, month, year - no matter how small.
Ponder these during your times of silent meditation with God and ask yourself what else YOU can do to serve him in some tangible way.
He isn’t asking you to make yourself the greatest at anything, but rather to assist others who are less fortunate than you are.
“Loving Lord God, help us to keep a humble heart and look to what we can do for others, rather than building ourselves up in the eyes of others.
May we look to building up your kingdom here on earth and assisting others to come to the knowledge of your love for them.
Keep us and our loved ones safe in this time of COVID lockdown and bring us out the other side with a positive attitude and love in our hearts. Amen”
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