Jesus and his disciples are continuing to walk towards Jerusalem, which Jesus knows will eventually end in his suffering and death. This is the second time he told his disciples about his death. In last week’s reading, they had just left the town, and Jesus told how he would “undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days, rise again.” Peter, (the apostle that would become the leader of the church), ‘rebuked him.’ That’s when Jesus said, “Get behind me, Satan, because you are setting your mind on only human things,” not focusing on the bigger picture. Peter was missing the point.
Today, Jesus repeats himself, again telling the disciples that he will suffer and be killed, and this time, the disciples were caught arguing about who was the most important. Again, in the middle of Jesus’ terrible prediction, they were missing the boat. The big picture. The standards that we hold up to ourselves as measures of greatness, have nothing to do with reality. What makes a person great?
Who knows what criteria the disciples were using to measure their greatness? Who had left the best business at home, who had the biggest house, the most children, or the best reputation in town? Who had known Jesus longest? Who had helped with the most miracles? Jesus upends their thinking, and holds up a little child, who in that day and age had absolutely no value other than that their parents loved them.
There were no laws to protect children, or to look out for their welfare. They were the property of their father. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last and a servant of all.” Then he took a little child and held him, because legally a child was equal to a servant. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and a servant of all.” If you help this child, serve this child, and people like this child: people without power, people who are vulnerable, people who have nothing; if you welcome them, and serve them, and treat them like they are somebody, then you are welcoming and serving me, and welcoming and serving God.
That would turn the world upside down! What if we, as a country or world, actually did that?
What if we believed that greatness wasn’t about power, wealth, fame or social status, but instead we measured greatness by how much we share with others, take care of others, help and stand up for others? Our world would be very different. I remember several years ago during election time, someone was running on a campaign based on cutting taxes. There was an ad that featured the picture of a baby crawling away from the camera. The diaper had a big red target painted on it, and the slogan was something like, “Don’t target the children. Don’t target the vulnerable.” The vulnerable are the easiest to target in any time of cutting costs, because of the fact that they Are vulnerable. The cost cutters are banking on the fact that they don’t have a voice. Children. Immigrants. Kids in special ed. People with special needs. People who are poor or disabled. They can’t speak for themselves, or if they can, their voice isn’t as loud as our. But that’s why We jump in and ‘become their servant.” You and I speak for them.
This week in Families Moving Forward there was a family with two teenage girls who were 14 and 16 and their father. The youngest girl, the 14 year old, was very hard to understand because she had been born with a cleft palate. Although it had been fixed as a baby, she needed more surgery and a plate, now that she was older. I was visiting with her and her sister and she told me how she had recently had leukemia three times. The chemo that she had initially been given didn’t work; it came back again. The third time it came back, her brothers and sisters (some lived with the mother) had all been tested for a bone marrow transplant, and the 16 year old sister, the one who was with them, was a perfect match. She had had the transplant, and now two years later, the 14 year old is still cancer free. You are considered “cured” after 5 years. Her dad told me how the chemo had left her with a degenerative bone disease that sounded a lot like what my daughter had, after she was cured from leukemia.
I was staying overnight, and later the girls asked me to come help them fill up their air mattress, which had lost a little air. I helped and while I was there, the girl was sitting on her mattress and her dad asked if she could get up from it. She said, “I think so, no problem,” and she reached over to the little bedside table and pushed herself up. He asked, “Are you sure?” “Is it too hard to do?” and she answered, “No, I’m ok, I can do it.” Then he told me how she had had a hip replacement because of the degenerative bone disease.
Later, I was reading the notes about each family that we help host, and discovered that she was most of the reason that the family was homeless. Between the medical bills, and missing work because he was caring for her, the father lost his apartment.
I imagine that if Jesus was beside this family when the disciples were arguing, he would have taken this 14 year old, and said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me, but the one who sent me.” Then I thought, maybe he wouldn’t have chosen this girl. Maybe he would have put his arm around the older 16 year old sister that gave her bone marrow, hoping that she could save her little sister’s life.
Then I thought, maybe he would have put his hand on the Father’s shoulder, and said, “Whoever welcomes a person such as this, welcomes me, and the one who sent me. “Maybe the Father is the one who is the ‘least’ in this picture, the one who lost everything to try to save his daughter.
Who is the greatest? Who is the least? Who is the one who serves them, who Are the ones who serve them? There are hundreds of people. People who serve professionally; medical people, social workers, the person offering a job, voting for what matters, advocating for affordable housing and rights for the poor. Those who offer some clothes, food, or kindness. Who are the ones who serve people like them, the ones who seem to have nothing and no one? We know who the servants are. They are us.