They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.” – Mark 9:30-37
It was a tense time. The seminary which I attended (Concordia Theological Seminary) was moving lock, stock, and barrell from Springfield, Illinois to the campus of Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The senior college was being closed, and the move was seen as highly political. Into that reality my friend and I were delegated to visit the students at the college, seeking to build some good relationships in anticipation of sharing the campus for our first year there and their last year on the campus.
Our meetings were going quite well. The senior college students were cordial and hospitable. Into that mix I thought I would be funny. I made a comment that was insensitive at best, and downright offensive at worst. Although I thought I was being funny about our move and their future plight, my attempt at levity fell flat. Mine were words unfitly spoken. I wish I could take them back these many years later.
I wonder if that’s how the disciples felt when Jesus asked them about their conversations on the road to Capernaum. Jesus had just predicted his death and resurrection. They so fully failed to grasp what that would mean that they began boasting to one another, arguing about who would be greatest. And Jesus busted them.
When you discover your words have been hurtful and destructive you can either rejoice in self-righteous satisfaction, ignore your verbal faux pas – hoping it will go away, or you can repent. Repentance is certainly the better choice and at least part of what Jesus means when he calls for his followers to do: put themselves last for the sake of Jesus’ message, and as a reflection of Jesus’ love for the lost, the little, and the least important.
Jesus’ example of blessing a child and exalting anyone who receives a child in his name is good news for those who are willing to be last and least. It will shape our speech, inform our posturing, and move us to acts of true kindness and mercy. It may even allow us more fully to appreciate Jesus sacrificial death for us, and embrace more completely the victory of his empty grave.