September 22-23, 2012
I wonder just how the conversation was going…
The conversation that the disciples didn’t want to tell Jesus about.
The conversation about which one of them was the greatest.
I mean, did any of them really think they’d earned the title, “disciple of the month?”
It wasn’t like the gospel of Mark is filled with stories about how faithful,
how perceptive, or how astute the disciples are!
Throughout the gospel of Mark,
Jesus’ disciples are shown as faithless and fearful individuals,
who never seem to understand anything Jesus is talking about.
Mark says that they are frightened by his miracles.
They don’t understand his parables.
He says that they don’t trust what Jesus can do.
They don’t believe that Jesus can feed 5000 people with only 5 loaves and 2 fish.
And even after they see him feed the 5000, when there’s a group of 4000 people who need to be fed, the disciples throw up their hands and wonder what to do!
And it happens yet a third time!
After he feeds the 5000, after he feeds the 4000,
the disciples (just 12 people) are with him in a boat with only one loaf of bread
and they begin to argue about how they can possibly share one loaf of bread among themselves!
Jesus has had enough by then!
He sits them down and gives a review session, “Don’t you remember?” he asks.
“When I broke the five loaves for the 5000 people, how many baskets were left over?”
And they say “12.”
“And when I broke the seven loaves for the 4000 people, how many baskets were left over that time?”
And they say” 7.”
“And now there are 12 of you and one loaf of bread…do you still not understand????”
So for the disciples to be arguing over who’s the greatest,
just seems laughable.
I’m of the opinion that when Mark says that Jesus keeps telling the disciples to hush up about the miracles, and not to tell anyone about them,
it’s because he knows that they don’t get it yet!
Jesus doesn’t want his disciples going around giving people the wrong message!
Anyway, apparently the disciples haven’t read the gospel of Mark,
and they don’t realize how clueless they are.
Jesus is such a forgiving teacher, that despite their many mistakes,
they all think they are his favorite disciple!
So they start to argue.
Jesus asks them “What were you talking about?”
The disciples are reluctant to admit the topic of conversation, and it gets very quiet. Very quiet.
Of course Jesus knows from the beginning what they were talking about,
so he says, “You don’t know anything about what it means to be the greatest.
Let me tell you…
You ask, ‘Who is the greatest?’”
And he lifts up a child,
and says, “The greatest is the one who treats one these – a child – as they were me.”
“The greatest is the one who looks for the smallest, the weakest, the least powerful in the world, and treats them as they would treat me.”
So maybe the greatest people in our world are not the ones we seem to admire the most.
Maybe the greatest teachers are not the ones whose students get the highest grades on the tests, but the ones who help marginal students graduate.
Maybe the greatest pastors are not the ones who preach to a packed house week after week, but the ones who faithfully preach the Word in a small dwindling congregation.
Maybe the greatest financial planners are not the ones that get the biggest return for the wealthiest of clients, but the ones who help those who don’t have much to just be able to pay their bills.
Maybe the greatest parents are not the ones who make sure their kids are involved in sports and music and scouts and youth group and math club but the ones who show their kids the value of helping others less fortunate than they are.
Maybe the greatest corporations are not the ones who make the most profits, but the ones which treat their employees well.
Maybe the greatest coaches are not the ones with the best statistics, but the ones who help everyone on the team be the best athlete they can be.
Maybe the greatest doctors are not the ones who treat patients at the Johns Hopkins and Mass Generals and Mayo Clinics of the world, but the ones who practice in field hospitals on the ground in Afghanistan.
…And maybe the greatest nations are not the ones which are the strongest or the richest, but the ones which are most concerned for the smallest, the weakest, the least powerful among them – the children.
And so …how are the children?
In the US our children are better off than many, many, many other countries around the world, but we have work to do too.
According 2012 statistics from the Children’s Defense Fund,[i] in America:
•Every 17 seconds a child is arrested.
•Every 19 seconds a baby is born to an unmarried mother.
•Every 29 seconds a baby is born into poverty.
•Every 47 seconds a child is abused or neglected.
•Every 67 seconds a baby is born without health insurance.
•Every 3 minutes a child is arrested for a drug offense.
•Every 21 minutes a baby dies before his or her first birthday.
•Every hour and a half a child or teen dies from an accident.
•Every 3 hours a child or teen is killed by a firearm.
•Every 8 hours a child or teen commits suicide.
The greatest nations are the ones which are concerned for their children.
I believe it was President Eisenhower who once said that the measure of a nation’s success is how it cares for its children.
when we care for them, we care for him.
As most of you know, Hoffman Homes is a psychiatric residential treatment center here in Gettysburg.
When I lead worship at Hoffman,
I usually read the gospel for the coming week.
I wasn’t sure I wanted to follow that practice this week.
Some of these kids have come from horrible home situations.
I wasn’t sure how they’d react to this passage about treating children well.
In the end, I decided to go ahead with the gospel reading as planned, and so they heard the words you just did,
“Jesus 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.’”
I swallowed for a moment, and then asked the young people how they thought people cared for children in the US.
Alissa was very honest.
She’s 14 or 15 years old. The inner part of her left arm was bright red on Friday because she
had tried to hurt herself the night before.
Alissa said, “You know, none of us are living here because we want to be.
We’re here because of our own behaviors, and also because of things that have been done to us.”
And then she concluded with a huge understatement…
“You know…people don’t always treat children good.”
People don’t always treat children good.
Countries don’t always treat children good.
And so I hope the youth at Hoffman Homes heard this Bible story as good news.
I hope they heard it as great news.
I hope that they heard Jesus insisting that children are important.
I hope they heard him say that when adults treat children poorly,
they treat him poorly.
That when those who have much neglect those who have little,
they neglect Jesus.
That when communities ignore the most vulnerable in society,
they ignore Jesus.
That when nations fail to look out for the best interests of the poor,
they fail to see Jesus.
What does it mean to be the greatest?
To be the greatest of all is to be the servant of all — especially children.