If there is one truth that rises from how Mark tells the story of Jesus which we are hearing these last few weeks, it is that discipleship is difficult!
Mark makes it clear that these disciples of Jesus are having a hard time understanding anything Jesus is saying and doing. Here he again says of them:
This is the second time Jesus speaks plainly about his immediate troubling future …
I am not sure they would even hear the good news, second part about rising since the shock of the first part would explode in their minds and hearts!
Mark says that they did not understand what Jesus had just said about dying and then rising, and that they had two things:
- Lots of questions and
- Enough fear not to ask Jesus any of them!
This ever been you? Ever had a question you were too scared to ask someone?
It is maths class at school. It is algebra. Everyone else seems to be getting this latest equation. The whole class is quiet and focussed – writing furiously what the teacher has set… all except you!
You are trying to understand. You almost get it.
You know you should raise your hand and tell the teacher to explain it one more time to you….. But you don’t. Why? Because that would show your weakness or lack of understanding to both the teacher (who totally gets all of this stuff and will think you am stupid) or worse, kids in the class will think you are dumb and use this against you at lunch time …
We all share this kind of fear about many things. We are human beings concerned enough about self, and reputation, and pecking order and being made to feel stupid and losing our place among peers to stay quiet and not ask the questions we all have. We are often people who never show our weakness, never show our need to learn something, discover something new, freely be the lowest in the group to learn the most in the group.
When they are too scared to ask Jesus their many questions, the disciples turn sideways and start comparing and competing with each other. That never goes well.
Discipleship is difficult for us.
When the dollars are a worry, the reputation is being ripped apart, the health failing, we want to hide our fears or mistakes or questions and look sideways as we start bickering and jostling for looking and staying ‘great’.
Jesus knows how it goes …
And now, the teacher will teach. For the fearful, bickering, jostling, self-absorbed, humanly focussed, often confused, mostly unaware, quite limited but much loved people, a teachable moment comes.
Discipleship is difficult, but not so much for a child, or you, if you are willing to be one.
What’s Jesus saying? Somehow, you will find him and his freedom from fear and lack of need to compete and hide and contain and control things as you welcome the ‘child’, little ones’, the ‘least’ and the ‘small’ more than when you stay with the ‘great’ and the ‘big’.
As you welcome your own confusion, weakness, vulnerability, limited scope, skill and sight about life and its many issues and challenges, you will welcome this Jesus.
He will become weak and small soon after this as he is reduced to an object of ridicule, public shame, violent words and deeds to the last drop.
He will do this to rise – to create a new community where smallest and weakest are his greatest and most worthy.
Even more. Jesus says that when you welcome the small more than the big, the weak more than the strong, the questions more than the answers, you will not only find this Jesus, but the Father who sent him to you in love.
What am I hearing from Jesus here?
You will never get it until you give it up.
You will never learn anything unless you ask – for real.
You will never grow and change with Jesus until you show your hand, let him and them see your weakness.
You will never grow in God’s version of what it is to be great until you are willing to weak.
Friend, two questions.
- Who or what are you welcoming into your life; into your heart?
- When is the last time you asked Jesus a real question?
Are the ‘great’ people and things your main interest? Are the like-minded, the easy, the people just like you the only people you welcome contact with? You may miss Jesus or at least much blessing and learning from him if this is the case.
Maybe it is time to get to know a new person, a person different and hopefully ‘lesser’ than you by our own or the community’s or the church’s standards. With that person you might meet Jesus anew and learn something and grow and let go of fears and comparisons and self-absorptions.
When is the last time you asked Jesus for anything other than stuff, or an easy way or good times? When is the last time you asked him – “Help me understand why I cannot forgive? Help me understand why I am so scared? Lord, help me get beyond my fears and pride. Lord help me welcome this conflict so I can make peace and bring glory to your great name”. Help me welcome this different person or thing or calling or role so I can learn and contribute to your kingdom”. Help me know what to do with all this COVID stuff, not for myself but for others – those ‘below’ me…..
I believe the Spirit is saying two things:
- It is time to ask the questions that are upon you.
- It is time to welcome one of these ‘little ones’.
You can ask real questions. Jesus sticks with his band of fellow travellers, through all of their misunderstanding, limited ability, weakness, fear, even betrayal and cowardice. He sticks with them. He teaches them. He continues unshaken from his mission to create a new community not founded of human greatness but God’s greatness in human weakness in these very people. You can ask you real questions to him – even whith others.
Hear the call to embrace a ‘little one’. It is time to embrace a child, a lower person, a weak person, a person not like you, a person frowned upon, a person told to be ‘seen not heard’ in your circle, for there Jesus says you will meet him and his Father, and be set free from having to endlessly make your own greatness in your own and the community’s eyes – free from comparison, from dog-eat-dog and competitive spirit. Free to be like a child and simply learn and serve in Jesus’ arms and the Father’s sight.
This account of Jesus with the little child in the middle of the group made me think about what happened in our family recently.
We took a little child and placed her everywhere among us a few weekends ago. We had a family weekend down at Port Elliot and all ten of us were together with our newest edition – new baby Norah. We passed her around from lap to lap all weekend.
I wonder what it was like to be that little child, Norah. Completely at the mercy of all those hands and all those laps, at any time and all times completely at risk of being dropped on your head!
And what must it feel like to be passed around – that moment when one person holds you up in open air to pass you to the next persons arms before knowing the relative safety of another lap? Totally vulnerable and in big risk territory.
I think Jesus is saying two things to you and me.
- Be the child on my lap and learn. You can. I won’t drop you or turn you away, no matter how silent or noisy you are.
- Be me to the others. Give up your place in heaven’s line. Welcome the vulnerable, the weak, the last, the slow, the old, the young, the little, the big, the well and the unwell to your arms.
In both we will know his welcome.