Last week, in the reading from Mark, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought he was. Peter speaks what they have all been thinking: “You are the Messiah.” I imagine he says this with a mental fist-pump. Jesus praises him for saying this, because this recognition of his identity came from God. But then Jesus immediately dampens their excitement by telling Peter and the disciples that he will soon be tortured and put to death, and then raised again on the third day. What’s more, he turns to the crowd and tells everyone that to follow him means living sacrificially. We skip over the next two stories, but I’ll summarize them.
From Caesarea Philippi Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain and is transfigured before them – revealing he is definitely more than human. In the meantime, the other disciples had been out and about doing healings and other ministry. But they were unable to cast out the demon from a boy. Jesus is frustrated, and does it himself. Apparently, the disciples did not pray about the healing.
In today’s reading, Jesus and the disciples travel through
They arrive in
Jesus knows what they were talking about, and wants to make a point. He gathers up a child and puts the child in the middle of them. You may remember that children had little value in that society. While they were loved, and well-cared-for, until they were adults they were unimportant. The honor and shame society of the time placed great importance on being able to influence others through gifts, through attention, through the power of one’s rank. The more power one had, the more money one had, the more influence one had, the more honor one had. Children were unable to exercise this influence in any way, so they were essentially non-persons.
Jesus puts this child, this non-person in the middle of the disciples and tells them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all. Whoever wants to be served by all must be the servant of all. Those who welcome this child, this non-person, welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me welcomes God who sent me.”
Jesus is doing everything he can to transform the hearts and minds of the disciples, the crowds, and even the leaders who are trying to get rid of him. But it’s slow work. Hearts and minds are slow to change. The disciples’ traditional Jewish patterns of thought and practice are well established and believed to lead to salvation. They know who is at the top of the power structure – the king and the priests and scribes. When they begin to think about Jesus as the Messiah, they can easily see themselves at the top of the power structure with him.
But that’s not what Jesus has in mind at all. To do life Jesus’ way means serving from the bottom, not the top. I’ve had the opportunity to serve from near the bottom, well at least not from the top. In
I enjoyed wearing my black clerical shirt and also clearing tables. Out in the dining room, I got to talk to people and welcome them to Hope, as well as take away their used dishes. One day, someone asked me if I was the pastor, and I said, yes, I was. “Just wait until I talk to my pastor!” was her response. Apparently, her pastor didn’t wait tables.
Jesus worked hard to transform the disciples’ hearts and minds. It wasn’t easy work, and at times it was frustrating for him. Mark’s gospel in particular portrays the disciples as very hard-headed, very slow to get the picture. On the other hand, the foreigners readily see what Jesus is up to and have faith in him, and their lives are transformed.
As we have read the stories of healings and teachings of Jesus this summer, I have tried to issue weekly challenges to encourage you to consider how well you follow where Jesus leads you. Like the disciples, we are sometimes transformed in an instant, with an “Aha!” moment. But most of the time, we are, like the disciples, slow to be changed, resistant to transformation of heart and mind.
Transformation, however, is what Jesus is all about. He lived, died, and was raised in order to transform us all, from sinner to saint, from stranger to beloved. Transformed hearts love easily, judge rarely, forgive readily, seek justice for all, and are willing to accept those folks whom society labels as unacceptable. Transformed hearts are willing to learn new ways of living and loving.
Allowing God to transform our hearts is a life-long process. It doesn’t just happen at confirmation, and then we’re good. It happens when we get married, when we have children, when we lose a loved one, when we retire, when we attend a retreat, when we are cured of cancer, when we move to a new part of the country. It happens as we hear a sermon, as we listen to a friend’s pain, as we study the Bible, as we watch and help our children learn about Jesus. It happens as we pray, confessing our sins to God, and allowing God to forgive us and show us a better way.
This week, I challenge you to pay attention to how you think about other people. Jesus tells us that when we welcome someone the way he does, we welcome him, and God who sent him. It’s easy to see Jesus in those we love, and in those we like. But do we see Jesus in those we don’t care for? Do we see Jesus in those we think are sinners? Do we see Jesus in those the world judges as unlovable?
Please pray with me: Jesus, you transformed the hearts and minds of the disciples and many others. Help us also to allow you to transform our minds and hearts, too. Amen