A Topsy Turvey Kingdom and a Fuzzy Bordered Kindom
Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 1; James 3:13-4:8; Mark 9:30-37
Sunday, September 23, 2018
The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation & Emergence
Knox-Metropolitan United Church — Regina Sk — Treaty 4 Territory
Jesus and his friends and followers, have been on the road, and while they were walking some of the twelve — a group within the group, young men from Galilee, were arguing about which of them was the greatest.
The book of Mark, from which we heard this story today, seems to suggest that Jesus has gathered a community that travels with him throughout the Northern, more rural part of what is known as Jewish Palestine, now territory under Roman military occupation.
This community, though never fully spelled out, is hinted at as involving a great number of people, some of whom have left homes not to return, and others who will follow for a time and eventually return to their homes. It is a community of many ages, genders, both those descended from the Hebrew people of Israel and those of Greek or Canaanite origin.
And notable within this group is a subset called the twelve — which in some interpretations of these stories are the only followers of Jesus, also called the disciples (the learners) or the apostles (the ones who will be sent).
This group, the narrative hints, believe themselves to be most perceptive the most important, the closest to their teachers. They believe themselves to be so, and yet the text, again and again, hint that they are wrong.
Again and again, Jesus will meet someone in need of help or healing, and the twelves, assuming they understand his mission, will try to stop that person from coming close to Jesus. They will be rebuked – perhaps on might say “called-out” for this, but will inevitable, do it all again.
In today’s episode, Jesus brings a child into the centre of their discussion, affirming the importance of the young within their community, and within a few pages, in an episode we’ll read in about a month even though in the narrative it is only a day or two from this moment, they’ll try to stop a group of children from coming to Jesus.
And despite being privy to his private musings within this narrative that his trajectory of ministry must lead him to being handed over to those who hate him, not a single of the 12 disciples will bear witness to his crucifixion, instead 2 elderly and 2 young women will stand vigil, while the ones the church has honoured for millennia scatter and hide.
It is this group who while they have been walking around the sea of Galilee, once again on their home turf after following Jesus into the lands of the Gentiles and converts, and all the way to the Roman controlled capitals of their land, have been arguing, which one of them is the greatest of Jesus’ followers.
Jesus asks them (and it would seem like he already knows the answer) what it was that they were speaking about — in response they are silent.
They have shown once again that they have misunderstood when Jesus has spoken of a Kingdom— which we sometimes think is a realm in a world to come, but might more accurately understood as a Household, a word which in Greek is written as Oikos or Oikonomia, from which we get economy and ecology, words that denote dynamics governing relationships in a system, which while unseen whose effects are universally felt.
This argument shows they are still working from the playbook of the Ancient Kingdoms of Israel and their current rulers from Rome understanding a Kingdom and Kindom of hierarchy, complete with a disembodied diety at the top controlling with an unquestioned dominance despite Jesus’ teaching and example of living in the midst of an economy of plenty and generosity, one which operated on principles of solidarity rather than domination, one that is expansive and open rather than exclusionary, and so once again, Jesus tries to upend and subvert their understanding.
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.”
While editing this page at home this weekend, feeling under-the-weather, finally getting over a cold that Lily brought home from school the week before, listening to her and Isla in the next room pretending to wizards trying to curse one another while making lots of poop jokes, I have to admit I have more trouble than in past pondering these words, as I am certain has been the case for many a parent over the centuries.
I can imagine perhaps the exhausted 1st century adults in the crowd who are briefly hoping that Jesus’ words mean that he’s planning on sticking around their community to begin offering some sort of co-operative affordable day care, who perhaps likewise are eyeing one another thinking, if he’s saying that, he’s certainly never met my kid on a grumpy day.
Fritz Wendt, Lutheran Pastor and contributor to the Political Theology network, notes however about this passage, that perhaps we might best ponder this statement by considering the development of ego in human development, and an invitation into a spirituality that invites the undoing of the scheming of the ego to cling, to self-justify, to defend, to selectively overlook to trade the childish habits of self-centeredness, pettiness, rivalry, and overconfidence for the child-like attitudes of wonder, faith, simplicity and trust.
Others have noted that this in thread in Jesus’ teachings might be akin to traditional philosophies that demand that ethics ponder not only the immediate implications of the decisions we make but of the generational effects, constantly asking what sort of world we are preparing for those who come next — those who have no say, not yet, but those who will have to live the results of decisions made today — a perspective seemingly lost in many western decision making models.
One of the gifts and challenges of intergenerational communities is the reminder of the arc of time — of being informed by the wisdom of the past and conscious of implications of the future.
In the arc of Mark’s narrative this passage comes as the action of healing, travelling and confronting meanders into chapters to come that lay out periods of teaching — it is these passages that we will ponder throughout the month of October.
During this time we will continually ask ourselves, how might Jesus’ person and teaching be received today? And we’d love your thoughts to become part of this conversation.
Would he be considered a naive idealist, a harsh cultural critic, a political radical, a head-in-the-clouds pietist? Whose attention would he grab? Whose ire would raise?
Are his words universal? What cultural assumptions might need to be disentangled to catch the underlying principle?
What would it be like to hear Jesus live on Scarth Street? And what disciplines of heart and soul might be needed to take challenging words, about wealth and human dynamics, and to drop a tendency to self-justify and excuse?
We’d love your thoughts…if you have an answer to that question, of how Jesus, as understood through these words we ponder from the Gospel narratives, be received today, we’d love to hear them — send an email, or Facebook message, leave a note, enter the discussion.
For in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us. We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.