Mark 9:30-37 | 25th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B
An Upside-Down Version of Great
Kids don’t always listen. They don’t always do as they’re told. They ask lots of questions and don’t accept much of anything as a given. They want their own way, and they are often sneaky in pursuit of it. They aren’t always kind and their humor is often at someone else’s expense. So why in the world would Jesus say “whoever receives one child such as this…receives me…” (v. 37)?
Reread the diatribe about kids above and substitute the words adulst in place of kids: Adults don’t always listen (even to God). Adults don’t always do as they’re told (even by God). Adults ask lots of questions (even of God). Adults want their own way and are often sneaky in pursuit of it. Adults aren’t always kind and their humor is often at someone else’s expense. Notice that the meaning stays the same.
I think Jesus used the example of a child to represent all of humanity in this gospel passage. When He pulled a child into His embrace, it was to demonstrate that we must accept all people—no matter their age, no matter how sneaky and full of questions— just as they are in order to receive Him.
At that moment, Jesus asked His disciples to do just that. They wanted Him to be a Messiah who would lead the Jews to a grand victory. But that wasn’t His mission. He was still the Messiah—just not the one they had envisioned. He needed them to accept Him as He was—a Messiah destined to suffer and die an ignominious death. Jesus accepts us warts and all, and His request is that we grant Him the same grace, that we accept all of Him, no matter how incongruous what He asks may seem.
Perhaps one of the most incongruous things He asks us to accept that to be first isn’t to win. We want our children to have the best advantages. We want our career paths to lead the highest they can. We want the “est”—prettiest, strongest, smartest, highest, quickest, and so on. But, Jesus cautions that the “est” doesn’t lead to true fulfillment. That’s why He insists we accept people as they are and not as we wish they were. He insists we accept them full of blemishes rather than the air-brushed version we, with the best of intentions, may wish for them.
Sometimes the most difficult air-brushed version to let go of is the one we have of ourselves. Jesus wants us to accept the person God made us to be rather than the worldly mold we try to cram ourselves into. The disciples discovered just this challenge. To admit to Jesus that they had been arguing about who was the “greatest” (v. 34) would allow Jesus the opportunity to “correct” them—show them why they weren’t the greatest. To have this distinction taken away would be a blow to their construct of themselves as people and of how they envisioned the Messiah’s followers. But only when they could allow themselves to be vulnerable, to be open to God’s dreams and not their own, were they actually able to achieve all they wanted.