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First Impressions: Mark 9:30-37

September 15, 2009

This week’s lesson brings another prediction of Jesus’ passion and another lesson on discipleship.  Even if you preached from Mark last week, this scripture is nuanced differently enough to provide good material.  It will be helpful as you think about the text to explore what Mark might have been meaning to say to his own post-resurrection community.  What are some issues that he might have been addressing?  Are any of those issues present in our communities?

9:30-31 Since I spent some time last Sunday on Jesus’ words about his suffering, death and resurrection, I probably will zoom past these verses in the sermon this week.  If you will discuss the passion prediction, it may be helpful to note the correlation between Jesus’ hard words and his desire to keep them hidden from the general population.  Perhaps only the disciples are ready to hear such things, though even Jesus’ closest followers cannot truly understand what he means.

9:32 This is a great verse, and it humanizes the disciples.  Who among us hasn’t been afraid to ask for clarification from someone we look up to?  Alyce M. McKenzie at WorkingPreacher.org wonders “what if” the disciples had actually asked Jesus what he meant.  This could be a creative way of getting into the text.  Would the disciples have left Jesus after his explanation?  What might they have thought and felt?  You might create an imaginative conversation among the disciples.

This discussion might help us to think through our own attitudes and feelings about Jesus’ passion and whether or not we are able to follow him.  Often we expect more of the disciples than we would expect of ourselves.  We say, “Shouldn’t they have known to trust him after all the miracles?  How can they still be so dull as to not understand?”  We cannot assume that we would have known any better.  In fact, we should be certain that we do behave in similar ways.  Our faith has its high and low points.  But somehow we think the disciples should have done better.

9:33-37 The argument among the disciples seems to be a terrible parody of their Lord.  He is preparing to allow himself to be treated as a criminal, and they are arguing about greatness.  Perhaps that is Mark’s point, that he is using the disciples to contrast our human attitudes with Jesus’ own.  It is true that they consistently misunderstand Jesus’ teaching.

You could focus on verse 35 about becoming a servant.  The disciples’ ambition is to be the greatest.  Jesus is asking us to refocus our ambition toward servanthood.  Ambition itself is not evil.  Sometimes we simply strive for the wrong things.  Jesus reminds us that we and the kingdom are best served when our ambition is to serve others.

If you choose to build your sermon around verse 37, be sure not to confuse other sayings of Jesus about children.  This verse specifically emphasizes welcoming children.  And who are children?  They are often unwelcome forces of chaos and disruption in our lives.  Children bug us with their incessant questions and inability to be neat, quiet “little citizens.”  To welcome them, Jesus says, is to welcome God.  One of my colleagues noted that God is also often a force of disruption in our lives.  God leads us to places we’d rather not go.  God teaches us lessons we’d rather not learn.

I heard a true story about a preacher who was notorious for not allowing children to be in worship while he was preaching.  Someone once asked him why.  He said, “I can’t do what they pay me to do when children are present.”  In light of verse 37, Jesus might have said to him, “Then perhaps you should be paid for doing something else.”

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