Sunday, September 20, 2009
It's Who You're For
Mark 9: 30-37
It has been a long day. The casting out of demons is hard work, the press of crowds makes it hotter, and Galilee isn't exactly Northeastern PA in the almost-fall.
Jesus had something to say to the disciples, and he wanted the time to be able to teach it properly, so he wanted to keep it secret that they were back in Galilee. He was teaching them that Jesus was not like any other prophet. He had not come to lead Israel to freedom from the Roman occupation; he had come to lead humanity to freedom from everything. But it's a hard task to try to open the minds of people who have been born and raised to understand one thing, and then be taught that what they know is too small for God.
So he tells them, as an opening that the Son of Man is going to be killed by human hands, but that death will not take him; he will return in three days. The Disciples have no clue what he is talking about, their minds are still in the places where they were raised--here is a prophet, he may be the one we've all been waiting for, and isn't going to be great when he pulls it off, and we've been with him the whole time? This if all the prestige! Think of all the honor! Think of the better life we will have when we are helping to rule Israel!
Of course, when such thoughts occupy someone's mind, they are not alone, because also accompanying that thought is this--how much power and prestige will I have? I should have more than that guy; I'm closer to the man, after all. Hm. He's a little closer than I am, Jesus talks to him more, so maybe I should make better friends with him. Be of help, you know what I mean.
Now, as a storyteller, I can't imagine that they are having this argument with Jesus right there in the midst of them, so he must be some distance ahead, far enough that the Disciples are comfortable with the discussion they are having about just who will have the most power next to Jesus in the coming kingdom.
But he knows. Just like little kids who don't know how far their voice carries, Jesus can hear them. He knows, but says nothing, but he starts to think.
At the house they are staying in, he gathers the twelve around, and asks them what they talked about when he was out in front of them. Well, they're busted, and don't say anything. Jesus doesn't try to embarrass anyone, but instead he catches the eye of one of the little ragamuffin kids, one of the sort that are always hanging around Jesus, and brings her into the center of them. It's hard to think of a human being that is farther from what these disciples value than this child, because there is nothing this child can give do or be that can add to their power and prestige.
And then Jesus says; "whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." He hugs the child warmly, the child smiles and laughs, and Jesus lets go and the child runs off, her day made. "Whoever welcomes one little kid like this, all dirty and with no value in our society, whoever decides to serve ones as worthless as that little one, serves me. And the one who serves me like this serves not me but the one who sent me."
I have no illusions about this idea. In our world, taking the side of the poor, of the bullied, of the distrusted and "sinful" among us doesn't make us popular with our fellow Christians. We surround ourselves with all of the language of Christianity, listen to all the proper opinions and take all the stands that our upbringing and our families have given us, and expect that it will put us in good stead with Jesus. And then Jesus puts a situation or a person in our midst who challenges all of that, and makes clear that his preference is not that you shun them, but that you choose them over everything you've ever been taught, and it's hard.
It is hard, but it is clear. There are people there are situations in this world that need love, that need defending. People who are killed for who they are, for what they believe. Jesus is telling us here that our place as followers of him is standing with them, standing in front of them, standing between them and their attackers, even to the point of the ruination of all the ambitions we hold for success, prestige and comfort in this world.
Sometimes that even means standing as a believer, a follower of Jesus, against those who use the language of our faith to maintain their own prestige and lifestyle. Sometimes that means standing as an American against those who use the language of patriotism to defend their own privilege.
It doesn't require angry words. It doesn't require political maneuvering. All it requires is simply standing with someone. All it takes is a quiet word of correction or rebuke with someone who has said something mean or hard.
Jesus is our model here. In our story today, he has just finished telling them that he is about to die. Lose his life, and in an ugly, public way. And these doofus disciples behind him are counting all the chickens they're going to have when Jesus becomes King. Does he turn around and blow up at them? No. Does he have the right to? I think so. But he doesn't. He waits for the "teachable moment". He speaks softly. He illustrates his point in love. He doesn't embarrass anyone by calling them out individually. And still one of those twelve eventually get angry enough with his teaching, angry enough with who Jesus chooses to stand with, that he eventually runs to the authorities and betrays Jesus.
One does not accrue power by standing with the weak and the bullied, the demonized and the misunderstood. If those are your goals, being a follower of Jesus is not the way to get there. But if you want to be Christlike, if you want to be like Christ in this world, if you want to witness to his love and grace, then it's clear--it's not who you are against.
It's who you're for.