Sunday I continued my series of sermons on Mark’s gospel. My text for the sermon (“Along the Road“) was Mark 9:30-10:52. In thinking through the implications of Jesus’s attempt to redefine the disciples’ expectations of the Messiah and their ideas about following him, I can think of few resources as instructive as Scott Bessenecker’s outstanding book, How to Inherit the Earth: Submitting Ourselves to a Servant Savior. I found the following passage particularly poignant as I prepared this sermon:
The must-read list for every leader in Jesus’ (sic) kingdom includes titles like Be Last! Five Easy Steps to Becoming Everybody’s Slave and 101 Ways to Welcome Children. There is a certain tongue-in-cheek humor with Jesus on this, a kind of irony which struck at the very heart of their desires for greatness. Jesus wasn’t just showing them a better way of obtaining the thing they wanted; I believe he was attacking the very nature of their quest. He was saying, “Why all this jockeying for position? If there is a position worth jockeying for it’s last place, because that’s where I hang out. The attitude required to get down on your hands and knees and make a six-year-old feel welcome is what you should be striving after, not this ladder-climbing, puffed-up posture.”
When Jesus placed that little child in the midst of the Twelve–a group including burly fishermen–in answer to their question about who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, the disparity must have been almost laughable: twelve grown men, seasoned by intense ministry experiences; apostles now in their own right having been sent out two-by-two to preach, heal and raise the dead; towering in stature over what might have been an eight-year-old little girl or boy. The physicality of placing the child “among them” was intentional. Jesus wanted them to appreciate the distance required for them to get from where they were–muscling for power and authority–to where they needed to be–vulnerable, dependent, meek and trusting. In fact, in another incident where the disciples were elbowing one another for first place, Jesus went so far as to say that not only could the disciples not be great in God’s kingdom unless they humbled themselves like a child, they couldn’t even enter without the simplicity and humility of a child.
Rather than holding up political, religious or commercial leaders as pictures of greatness, Jesus encourages us to model ourselves after children. If that’s not a call to downward mobility in a culture intoxicated with growing wealth, power or fame, I’m not sure what is. (36-37)
I wonder what it would look like if the church embraced Jesus’s call to downward mobility?