How the disciples missed the point! He confides in them that he is about to lose his life and their concern is who’s number 1! And still worse there are three such incidents in the gospel of Luke (and Matthew and Mark as well) where Jesus so confides in them about his demise and three times the disciples grossly misunderstand him. The reading for today is just one of three such gaffes on the part of the disciples.
What must Jesus have thought? His disciples, his chosen ones, the ones he called to follow him, those who were with him through His long ministry in Galilee – could not hold on to the message he gave to them. And they want to know who is the greatest among them.
Jesus doesn’t blast out at them in anger. He simply dramatizes the incongruity of their actions by taking a child and placing it by his side: “whoever receives this child in my name receives me . . . for the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.”
In Jesus’ culture a child represented the “least” because they had nothing to offer to anyone. Their dignity was simply in the fact that they were, not that they had any power or influence of themselves.
But receiving a child like the lad Jesus sat next to him that day was to receive HIM, and even more to receive “the One who sent me (the Father, God).” The disciples are literally to be like that child and in that way to determine who is the “greatest” among them.
What a paradox. It’s the exact opposite of what the disciples and we would think: to be the greatest is to have and to exercise influence and power. But Jesus’ way is neither theirs nor ours. Jesus’ path is the path of humility, the recognition of the truth that the only and the real greatness comes from our being like Jesus in his humility.
Humility, far from “putting ourselves down,” as we may be inclined to think, is the recognition of the joy that is inherent in our status as Jesus’ friends and followers of him as he leads us to the Father. Thus the “joy” is not from what I or the disciples do or accomplish, but from the simple fact that we are intimately connected with Jesus and his journey.
The disciples finally did understand, but it took the scandal of the cross of Jesus to bring that understanding to them. Just as the cross scattered them (remember Peter’s denial), so the resurrection gathered them together in the person of Jesus. That would be their strength – the death and the resurrection of Jesus – and that would make all the difference in the world for them.
And it makes all the difference for us as well.
Lord, lead us to recognize that YOU are our focus. Be with us as we attempt to live humbly the message you are at pains to give us. Thank you for your calling us as you called your disciples and for inviting us into your most vibrant life.
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