“Finding Our Inner Child”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Mark 9: 30-37
September 23, 2018
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.” – Mark 9:36 & 37i
What a strange passage of scripture – not because it doesn’t make sense but because of the whole bizarre scene.
They are traveling through Galilee. Jesus doesn’t want outsiders to know they are there. Jesus wants a private moment with His disciples. Why? He has something to say to them that isn’t easy to hear and maybe Jesus didn’t want them to be distracted. He probably wanted them to focus on what He had to say.
How did they do? It’s amazing, right? Jesus tells the very people who have been with Him through thick and thin that He is going to be betrayed, killed, and after three days dead rise from the grave. And please note this isn’t the first time Jesus has told them what is to come. In Mark 8:31-381 Jesus tells them what to expect and Peter rebukes Him. So this isn’t the first time they get it wrong but this time they seem to ignore Him.
I guess I understand it. I’ve been known to shutout bad news. But it’s what they do next that is really shocking. They debate who is the greatest among them! These are the guys who are supposed to know Jesus best. They’ve been with Him in good and bad times. And here, right after their leader has told them He is going to be betrayed, killed and rise again, they seem to have not heard a thing Jesus had said over the past two years. These guys don’t even ask Jesus a follow-up question, like how a person three days dead could rise again. They take up a subject that not only avoids what they just heard from the lips of Jesus but is contrary to the very essence of Who Jesus is. They want to lay claim to the title of “Greatest.” Incredible.
However, it becomes a great teaching moment. They may be thick headed but Jesus uses it to teach them about the true measure of greatness.
Notice that Jesus doesn’t condemn their desire to be the greatest. I actually think Jesus uses their ego needs to good ends. “You want to be the greatest? Good for you. You can do it, you know. You can be the greatest. Go for it!” Jesus can use even our ignoble desires to good ends and He does it here.
Jesus tells them yet again that the world they know is not the Kingdom they are called to occupy. They are not in Galilee. They are not in Palestine. They are not in Israel. And we are not in Vermont. They, like we, are in the presence of the King of a kingdom that refuses to bend to the customs of oppression. This kingdom demands that its citizens pursue the cause of justice and seek the way of peace. They, like us, are to occupy the kingdom of God. We are citizens of a kingdom where the cross is the required passport and greatness in measured in the most unimaginable way – “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Are you a visual learner? It really helps me if you can physically or graphically show me what you mean. So Jesus makes this teaching moment all the more powerful. He puts a child in the midst of them. I don’t know where this child came from. I thought Jesus was alone with His disciples. The text is silent regarding this child’s origin. But the point is made, and notice what the text does say, “…then he took a little child and put in among them…” What does that mean? Mark could have told us that he put the child in the middle of them, but he doesn’t. He specifically says “…he took a little child and put it among them.” What does that look like? If the child is among them, the disciples do not encircle the child as if a specimen to be examined. No. In Mark’s gospel the child is their equal. With one little word, Mark has made his point. The child is not an outsider. The child is among them.
One of the problems moderns’ have when reading the scriptures is that we read it with twenty-first century eyes. When reading about this child we may be unable to see the shocking nature of this story. So let’s see if we can gain a sense of how the disciples and folks living in this time would have seen this story. In Culpepper’s commentary on Mark, he cites one Rabbi who lumps talking with children as something that destroys a man:
“Morning sleep, mid-day wine, chattering with children, and tarrying in places where men of the common people assemble destroy a man” Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas (m. Aboth 3.11)2
Culpepper goes on to suggest that this view of children was widely held in antiquity.
So what do we have? The disciples who have been arguing who is the greatest among them have been chided by Jesus first by what Jesus says to them and then by what Jesus shows them. Maybe what Jesus had to say didn’t shock them. After all, when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about they were so chagrined they fell silent! They knew. They knew. So they probably expected Jesus to set them right just as He had when Peter rebuked Jesus for having talked about His impending crucifixion back in Mark 8. I can just see them collectively with their heads cast downward saying, “Yeah, yeah. We know,” and softly kicking pebbles under their feet. But this child, this one little child placed among them…now that’s a powerful teaching moment.
Note what Jesus is telling them do. Here in Mark’s gospel they are not told to become like little children. That’s in Matthew 18:3. No. Here in Mark they are told to welcome this child in Jesus’ name. How odd. Don’t we wait to welcome people in the name of Jesus until they have demonstrated an understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Why do you Congregationalist have young people go through Confirmation? Why do Baptists have people make a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ before we baptize folks? Aren’t we all waiting until a person can make a free and fully informed decision?
But here is something I will always remember. My father told me of one adult baptism he performed. It was a man who had Down Syndrome. He, along with other folks being baptized that day, was asked, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and do you pledge to seek and to serve Him forever.” Everyone who was asked this question said, “I do,” and there is nothing wrong with this answer. It’s the answer you are supposed to give. When it came time for this man to be baptized, he was asked the same question, “Do you confess Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior and do you pledge to seek and to serve Him forever.” The man with Down Syndrome said, “Forever.”
Jesus took the child in His arms and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
My friends, the porthole to God lies not in accumulating great knowledge, wealth or power. The porthole is not opened by meeting some standard of rigorous acceptance. It lies in your vulnerability, frailty and weakness. It is found when we are among the least. Then it is that we need God’s love the most. And here, now, we find we are in the arms of Jesus. Let us pray….
1 31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
2 R. Allen Culpepper, Mark, (Smyth & Helwys, Macon Georgia, 2007), 312.
i Mark 9:30-37
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for 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.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then 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.”