The ninth chapter of Mark’s gospel is alive with visionary wonders. It begins with the narrative of the transfiguration in which Peter, James and John behold Christ with new eyes – yet Jesus orders them not to tell anyone what they have seen –Jesus is teaching the disciples about the coming passion, but they are fearful and fail to see what he means.
Meanwhile in Capernaum, they are arguing on the way about who among them will be the greatest! But this is normal, isn’t it?”I don’t want to a basketball player, I want to be the greatest basketball player!” and we also think of other ambitions of life when we want to succeed greatly, and it does not seem problematic to want to fulfil one’s human abilities and gifts to the best of our abilities.
So what is the problem with arguing, “I am not just one of the twelve, I am the greatest apostle?”
Here Jesus is presenting to his apostles a spiritual world in which greatness is measured not by human striving or boundless ambition but by servanthood. This is a gift and an ability that does not rely on pre-eminence or superiority, but on presence for those in need.
Notice the text moves swiftly from passion prediction through teaching about servanthood to receiving a child in Jesus’ name. It is a movement from death through confronted ambition to a new insight into what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And it is the child in Jesus’ arms who incarnates this lovely truth about discipleship.
In taking the child, Jesus incarnates his teaching. In his reception of the child Jesus models openness, vulnerability and humility to which we are invited. The deep wisdom of God is at work here, for we are all children of God, dependent at all points in our lives on the service of others in varying and different ways.
To recognize that we are called disciples of Jesus is to be at the service of others, especially children and all others who are vulnerable, marginalized and otherwise forgotten.
Servanthood orients our relationship with others, for when our desires are out of order, as James writes, our relationships become disordered: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at way within you?”