Sept. 24, 2018 Our Place

A disciple asked a learned rabbi why God used to speak directly to the people but never does today. The wise man replied, “People cannot bend low enough now to hear what God says.” - Jewish Proverb

What an emotional roller coaster ride the disciples are on by this stage of Jesus’ ministry. Not that life with Jesus had ever been boring, exactly, but at least they had known what they were doing. Or they thought they did, anyway.

But now Jesus seems to be trying to undermine everything they thought they were following him for. They should have been on an emotional high.

In Mark’s Gospel, this episode is set immediately after the Transfiguration and the spectacular healing of a dramatically ill child. But instead of building on this, planning their next campaign stop, Jesus takes his disciples away and makes another attempt to explain his mission to them.

How can they possibly understand? After all - we who know how the story ends still get tripped up ourselves. Remember the question that was on Jesus’ lips last week: But who do you say that I am?

Why, we wonder, would Jesus even have to ask us that question… after all we’re sitting here in church on this beautiful Sunday morning. We’re certainly trying to follow Him. But then like the disciples who walked with him, after we nod piously at the notion of the cross we wander off and argue about which of us is the most important.

Oh, we may not use those exact words, but think back over the last few days. Have you had times of such utter self absorption and preoccupation with your own opinion that you have said and done things which you later regret? Perhaps you fired off a caustic email, or added one more sarcastic comment to a growing Facebook string or spoke in unchecked anger. At the time your own opinion seemed paramount,as if the fate of the free world depended upon it.

It’s quite easy to see why the disciples at this point in the story might be arguing over which of them is the greatest. The three who had witnessed the Transfiguration might well feel superior to the others who had not only been left at the bottom of the mountain but had also failed to heal the sick boy while Peter, James and John were witnessing Jesus talking about with Moses and Elijah. “I expect we could have healed him”’, you can hear Peter saying. “But you don’t pray any more than we do,” the others would protest. In the middle of all these rivalries and with the power that they have seen whizzing all around Jesus, which they long to be able to tap,

How can they possibly pay attention to what Jesus is saying?

How can they avoid being offended that some child  they don’t even know is more important to Jesus than they are - the ones who have followed him so faithfully and given up so much just to be his disciples?

But there Jesus sits- with a child in his lap.

In 1st century Palestine, children literally occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder. Jesus deliberately chooses someone with no status and no power as a placeholder, as an icon, as the example. “This is me,” he says, pointing to the anonymous child. “If you want to be powerful you won’t be able to welcome someone like me.” This is the part of Jesus’ message against which we most ardently defend ourselves. Self-preservation demands that we turn away from accepting vulnerability as a measure of his greatness.

But there it is. That child in Jesus’ lap is meant to remind us of another defenseless babe in a rude manger. This is exactly the way God chose to come to us. If this is frightening and hard to accept, it is also liberating and easy.

We do not need to earn our place anymore.

We do not need to struggle ‘to be best’ as in ‘better than’, to be important, to be greatest.

We do not have to be the center of everything, frantically trying to prove that we are interesting.

In the world of God’s strange and wonderful mercy, the minute we let go of this desperate obsession with ourselves we are where we should be - beloved, chosen and free. No effort of ours can do it. God has done all that needs doing – in the life, death and resurrection of his only begotten Child. The Father welcomes us helpless children as though we were that child.

All we need do is practice doing the same for others. Amen.

9/23/2018 - Proper 20 - Year B - The Reverend Anne Bridgers

Jane Williams, pp108- 109, Lectionary Reflections