Jesus and his disciples went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 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." But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 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."
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Sometimes during the service I hear some people talk. It may be a comment about something or the a response to something I said during my sermon or the confusion I create from time to time. Then I have a temptation to ask “what are you talking about there by the way?”. Can you imagine the embarrassment it would cause to the person who was talking during the service?
Was Jesus trying to embarrass the disciples asking this question to them as they were on their way somewhere?
Many times when Jesus said things it confused the disciples. Sometimes it angered some of his hearers. Jesus was not an easy to understand preacher sometimes. Today we find him doing something that is against cultural understanding and practice.
This is a heartwarming story as he makes a child an example. He respects, cares and admires the innocence of a child. That is such a sweet thing to do. Don’t you think? He is such a caring person and it is easy for us to imagine such a God because we do the same. However at the time of Jesus, it was not so. Children are the least priority in the ancient world.
According to some Mediterranean writers, including St. Thomas Aquinas, if there is a fire in the house, a man is obliged to first save his father, then his mother and then his wife and only then his child!
Wow…. Aren’t you glad that they were not born in modern America or didn’t live in today’s world? They won’t be saints I can guarantee you. At this time of cultural understanding of what is and who is important what Jesus said was outrageously un-sweet. He picked up a little child and said, ‘be like this child’. He broke all the rules. He was being un-cool when being cool was following the norms of the society.
Now speaking of children being devalued at that time I should say it is not just children who were devalued. According to Megan McKenna, who is a Theologian, story teller, lecturer and artist, the list of those devalued include peasants, farmers, shepherds, widows, slaves, the unemployed, aliens, immigrants, prisoners and homeless.
Does this sound familiar? Do we have people who are devalued amongst us? The poor and the powerless are devalued all over the world regardless of the nation they live – the first or the last world.
May be Jehovah’s Witnesses have a point when they try to covert people, when we are changed we will live here on earth like we will live in heaven when all are of equal importance and value.
Rev. Peter W Marty is an Evangelical Lutheran Pastor, Theologian and thinker. Marty talks about what happens to people who shifts the focus like Jesus did. For Jesus it was God for sure who was the priority but on earth the list was rearranged and the children, the powerless and poor gained importance. And Jesus therefore was “scheduled for death”.
When we reverse expectations and assumptions, be sure to get ready for execution.
So today, what are you talking about? You can ask me the same question Jesus asked his disciples. And I will say, I am talking about who is important among us?
I think when Jesus took Peter, James, and John a few times by themselves to the mountaintop and shared stuff with them, they did think they are more important than the rest of the bunch. So, I wouldn’t blame them for such a conversation on their way to Jerusalem.
All are equal in our churches today and should be every day. And then someone said, Yes, “All are equal and some are more equal”. We sometimes behave in our claim of the kingdom of God that some of us are more equal to the grace of God and God’s love than others. Some of us in this world think that we are greater than somebody else from the list given by Megan McKenna, the peasants, farmers, shepherds, widows, slaves, unemployed, aliens, immigrants, prisoners, homeless.
We live in a culture and a time when winning is all that matters. Getting to be the first in the world, in the games, in the life and in money is all that matters. We could easily plunge into a world of chaos as a result of this winning attitude that degrades people and dehumanizes mankind.
I read this story recently of Joe Jacobi of the Washington Redskins. He once said, “I’d run over my own mother to win a Super Bowl.” Hearing Jacob’s boast, Matt Millen of the Oakland Raiders said, “To win, I’l run over Joe’s Mom, too.”
See the world we live in.
We all want to be first. That is what the talk is about. Who will be the first. We have examples after examples. President Johnson was one of the most ambitious guys in history. He wanted to win in all what he did. Where did he get it from? From early morning hours of toe pulling by his father who said to him, “Get up, Lyndon. Every other boy in town has a head start on you”.
We live in a world of ambition and achievement. Examples after examples I can show you including the story of the current president and the previous one, and a list of others in power and politics, spirituality and religion.
But ultimately all the race we do and all the games we play has to end with the names and lives of those who were lost and are powerless.
The kingdom of God is for those who have the courage and readiness to reverse the expectations and assumptions. It is for those who have the courage to rise to the top of the pyramid from the bottom of the world through their innocence and truthful life.
Get involved in the lives of people and let not anyone pass by who is not cared for.
A comedian said he was once mugged. He was beaten up, his face blackened and bruised. Someone asked him, “why didn’t you fight back?”. Then he answered, “I started to but I decided not to get involved”.
My dear brothers and sisters, get involved in this world today. Do not be afraid of being involved with the innocence of a child and the prudence of Christ.
Welcome someone into your lives and into the life of All Saints. Devalued human beings are all over and amongst us. Let us be servants in a world of masters. Christ was one and so shall we be. Let us shake up the world around us, and be assured we will be scheduled for execution. But the secret is resurrection is around the corner.
So do not be afraid. Truth will always win. Innocence will always rise to the top. Let us be like the children amongst us. Amen.
Fr. Jos Tharakan