I want you to notice the difference between Jesus and his disciples in this text today. It begins here with Jesus and his disciples on their way through Galiliee, and Jesus “did not want anyone to know it”. Travelling incognito, unknown, quietly, without fanfare or recognition.
On the way he is teaching his disciples that he will be betrayed, killed, and will rise again. And this is the second time he’s told them this.
They get to the house in Capernaum, and the whole journey Jesus is trying not to call attention to himself, to lay low, helping them understand the role of suffering and even dying—tremendously humble and meek topics.
The disciples, meanwhile, too frightened to ask him about all this, had been arguing about which one of them is the greatest.
Humble, suffering Jesus. Frightened, boasting disciples.
Jesus deflecting attention from himself to God’s will in the world. Disciples who want recognition, deserved or not (and it’s definitely not).
Jesus: it’s all about others. Disciples: it’s all about us.
What the disciples never seem to get in Mark’s gospel is how differently God works in the world than we usually do. Jesus is continually trying to teach and show his disciples what God’s kingdom is actually like. It is so opposite of what they experience that they just can’t seem to understand it. Today’s verses shine a light on that misunderstanding.
In God’s kingdom, Jesus says, the greatest are the servants. The least in our world should be treated like Christ himself. The one who serves others has their life given to them. The one who is ignored is the one in the center.
If God had God’s way, this would be the normal way of the world. The disciples never seem to catch onto that.
When Jesus goes on about how different God’s way is, it just doesn’t click with the disciples. All this “serve others, love enemies, forgive everyone, last are first, weak is strong” business Jesus tells them may as well be “up is down, red is green, and squares are round.” It doesn’t connect with them.
As I suspect it still doesn’t with us. God’s way is soooooo different from how the world actually operates that we usually find it easier to just kind of ignore it.
Think about if everyone took Jesus seriously when he says that the greatest of all is the servant of all. That would mean that the night janitor at McDonald’s has more status than any of our current presidential candidates . . . (OK, maybe a bad example). It would mean that everyone would accept that the homeless alcoholic man with a cardboard sign at the traffic light is just as valuable in the world as the person in the Mercedes who gives him money and food. Or the totally nerdiest kid in school is elected student body president over the most popular kid.
If everyone took Jesus seriously, can you imagine how badly it would turn out if we actually did love our enemies? Makes it kind of hard to fight a war, don’t you think? Capitalism kind of falls apart.
How about Jesus taking a child, the most powerless and most vulnerable person in his society, and telling us to welcome these as if they were Christ himself? If everyone actually welcomed and embraced the most vulnerable, most powerless people in our culture, imagine the changes in immigration and how we’d deal with the Syrian refugee crisis?
Then there’s the whole suffering and dying thing Jesus talks about. Can you imagine if everyone trusted so fully in God that they would go to that extreme for the sake of others?
Hard to even imagine that, isn’t it? God’s ways are just too different. The world would turn upside down if everyone took all that stuff seriously. And let’s be honest, not everyone even wants God’s ways, much less be willing to live them.
No, not everyone will. Hardly anyone. Maybe no one.
This is where the church comes in. Jesus calls his followers to do it. We are the ones Jesus sends into the world to be last of all and servant of all. How about if we, as Lutheran Church of the Master, were willing to suffer as a congregation because showing God’s mercy and compassion for others was more important to us than our own comfort or even survival?
God is so committed to this that God keeps removing the barriers that get in the way of following Jesus. So God keeps forgiving us, coming among us, giving us gifts, equipping us, and loving us so that we can love others.
Do you think we’ll do this perfectly? Nope, not gonna happen. But we can serve someone today. Then stand up for someone else tomorrow. Then show love to an undeserving person the next day. Sometimes it will cost us. Sometimes it will be hard. Sometimes we won’t benefit ourselves at all. But God is seen. Jesus is lifted up. God’s kingdom is exposed. Maybe without fanfare or recognition. Usually with humility and meekness. Not everyone wants it. May we be among those who do.