He asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."--Mark 9: 33b-37
I love the Jesus in Mark's gospel. He has no time for any nonsense because he is a man on a mission. Either get on board now, or get out of his way!
And here, in this passage, I hear a Jesus who has no patience for petty foolishness (of which the disciples supply plenty of in this gospel story). In the opening part of this Scripture, Jesus has again told the disciples what is coming for him. There is going to be betrayl. There is going to be death. There is going to be resurrection. They don't get it, and so instead they commence into a selfish and egotistical argument with each other about who is the biggest Jesus fan. Who put on the most face paint. Who came up with the most clever slogan for their sign in the stands. Who did the best fish at the tailgate. Me. Me. Me. It's all about me.
Which is where our steel-toed sandal-wearin' Jesus steps in, kicks them in the butts, and reminds them that if you want to be the greatest, you better start washing the dirty feet of your fellow disciples after a long day of wandering about the sandy streets of First Century Palestine. This mission is not about being the number one fan. Jesus doesn't need cheerleaders; he needs people who are willing to feed the hungry, clothe naked, visit the prisoner. In other words, he wants people who aren't looking for recognition for themselves, but are willing to put their own selfish ambitions aside to help somebody else.
There's a counter-cultural message if I ever heard one!
It's also a message that I don't think sits well with a lot of people who still follow Jesus some 2,000+ years later. Because so often, the very things that would answer the question, "What Would Jesus Do?" would take us so far out of our comfort zones that we regularly balk at the idea. How willing are we really to consider what our personal consumption does to people in other countries? Do we not think about how when we vote on constitutional amendments to provide yet-another tax break to someone on their homestead, we will necessarily shift a greater tax burden on to other people to make up for that lost revenue? Are we willing to pay a little more to shop locally-owned or are we going to buy the cheaper stuff sold by chain stores? And most importantly, are we willing to love our selves in the same way we love our neighbor which should be a reflection of the love we show God, the God who loved us first?
I am intentionally turning the commandment about love around. I think sometimes we fall short of loving our selves. We see every flaw, every misdeed, every moment we've failed to live up to our own expectations and we see them as if they were in neon lights flashing off a billboard. With all those things stacked up as evidence that we are less-than-perfect, we turn our self-loathing outward, lashing out at other people and at God to deflect away from our own feelings of inadequecy. We cover up our self-hatred by trying to buy our way into a happier state, filling our lives with "things" and people and possessions that are supposed to make us feel better. Really they don't. And this, for me, gets back to God. God loves us. God's only true response to us is love. God loves us in our perfect imperfection. Just as Jesus tells his disciples, if you want to be first, you better prepare to be last... God doesn't expect us to be scrubbed up and looking snappy. God loves us as is. If we can internalize that, we can begin to live our lives in the knowledge and the deep-seated belief that we are loved so completely. Then, we can truly love our neighbors in the same way we love our selves.
Jesus puts a child before the disciples and tells them one must enter the kingdom of God like a child. Like a child, we come to God with no authority, no rank, but a desire to have someone hold us and care for us. Love us through and through. Again--this is counter-cultural stuff not only for the times of Jesus, but for us today. Surrendering our ambitions and ego to love? Hard stuff. But worth it.