THE PATH OF DISCIPLESHIP
Have you ever been mistaken about something in life? That is a loaded question, isn’t it? Who has not gone through life and made some mistakes, or held some misconceptions about what life was about or about God?
I remember, my grandfather had a small religious tract. Beginning from the 1800’s it listed predictions from various people about when the end of the world would come. If humans had their way, we would have brought the world to an end probably 1000 times over, but every prediction made has been wrong. This is to point out that as finite creatures it is easy to make mistakes, or to accept mistaken ideas as being true.
The disciples were not any different. They experienced life the same way. They were anticipating their service to Jesus to be about who would be the greatest; who would be the ruler of all; who was more spiritual and the closest to God. Unfortunately, they were very mistaken about what the kingdom of God was about. But to their advantage Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was to happen. Jesus was explaining to them what being a disciple is about. Jesus said to them, “The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.”
I just want to pause to point out that Jesus knew what was going to happen to him. Some modern interpretations of Jesus life would portray Jesus as struggling with the meaning of his life. The scriptures make it clear that this was not the case. However, the disciples are viewed as not being able to understand. They talked among themselves. What does it mean that the Son of Man will be killed and rise from the dead? What is this rising from the dead about? I expect that if we had been them, we too would have puzzled over Jesus’ words. The disciples did not understand, but apparently, they anticipated that something big was going to happen, and they hoped that they would be a part of it. Maybe they figured Jesus is going to finally reveal himself. He was finally going to be crowned king. His dying and rising was a metaphor.
Anticipating something great they began discussing among themselves who was the greatest, who would share the most in Jesus’ kingdom. Do you see the irony in this story? Here the disciples were mistakenly waiting for Jesus to be crowned king, and Jesus was going to be crowned as a king, but his crown would be made of thorns, and his throne would be a cross. Even though Jesus tried to plainly explain this to them, they kept talking about who was going to be the greatest.
Now in understanding Mark’s Gospel you must keep in mind that Jesus is seen as always traveling. The phrase “along the way” or “passing through” or other phrases occur throughout the Gospel of Mark, and it is a call for us to follow Jesus along the way also. The writer of Mark’s gospel wrote his book as a call to discipleship. The way that Jesus traveled in the gospel of Mark is not just a dusty path in Palestine, but it is a way of life. It is the path of service and obedience to God. Every time Jesus is said to have crossed the sea, he is seen to be ministering to first the Jews and then the gentiles. In Mark’s Gospel the way Jesus traveled shows him ministering to both male and female. Jesus’ way is one of travel that builds bridges between different races, cultures, sexes and groups, and most importantly Jesus’ way is the way to the cross. This is very significant. In fact, in the Book of Acts those of the Christian faith are referred to as belonging to the WAY.
So, in Mark’s Gospel when Jesus asked his disciples, “What were you discussing on the way,” we can rightfully enlarge the meaning of that question to, “What were you discussing on your way through life?” As you are following me on my way to the cross what is on your hearts? And they were silent. Is it any wonder?
There is an anecdote I read that tells a bit of gossip that was printed in a London newspaper in the 1800’s about a famous painter and an equally famous writer: “James McNeil Whistler and Oscar Wilde were seen yesterday at Brighton talking, as usual, about themselves.” When Whistler saw that little tid-bit of gossip in the newspaper, he clipped it out and sent it to Oscar Wilde with a note that said, “I wish these reporters would be more accurate. If you remember, Oscar, we were talking about me.
Oscar Wilde replied in a telegram that said, “It is true, Jimmy, we were talking about you, but I was thinking of myself.” Neither of these colorful men showed any embarrassment over their ego-centered conversation.
But the disciples were embarrassed when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about as they journeyed along the way, for they had been talking about which of them was the greatest.
With that Jesus sat them down and said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child up in his arms and said, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
That is greatness, but I just don’t think that is what the disciples wanted to hear. That is not what they were hoping for. They hoped the way of discipleship would lead to becoming kings and rulers over all that is in God’s kingdom, but instead the way of Discipleship turned out to be one of service. To be first we must be the servant of all.
This lesson is important for us to learn also. IT TEACHES US:
Discipleship is by one’s willingness to serve.
There is really no great secret to this understanding. Once when I was in high school, I was named The Rotary Club Student of the Month. It was a good deal because you got to leave school and have a free lunch with Rotarians. The motto of the Rotary club is Service Above Self, or One Profits Most Who Serves Best. As far as I know the rotary club is not religiously based, but they seem to understand the Christian dynamic of service.
Can we merely sit in our pews on a Sunday and declare ourselves great Christians…No. Can we sit at home and watch church on TV and think that we are doing everything that God wants us to do…No. Can we always say no when asked to help and conclude that we are following the Spirit’s calling in our life…No.
Now I know that if a person is physical not able to do then that is a different issue, but you can not complain about the state of your church if you are not trying something positive to make it better. You can not talk down the efforts that are being made if you are not praying and working to support them.
When Jesus talked about greatness, about servanthood, about leadership. He told the greatest among us will be the one who isn’t talking about what is lacking but trying work for wholeness in all matters.
2. Greatness is measured by how much consideration we give to the small and powerless in life.
Jesus called the children to him. He sometimes had children around him. He spoke of his concern for the youngest. In today’s text he raised a child up in his arms as an object lesson for his disciple concerning who they should be paying attention to. Often in Jesus day children were considered as less significant. Maybe you remember that scripture where the children came to be blessed by Jesus and the disciples tried to run them off. Their thinking was that Jesus was too important of a person to be bothered by such things. However, Jesus redirected the disciples’ efforts and told them to let the children come. As the old song goes Jesus loves the little children. I am generally incline to interpret this as being and unusual choice for that time, but Jesus demonstrated his compassion and care for every person and not just the powerful and important.
How well do we serve? Are we conscious of the needs of those around us? I think often enough we are. Always remember discipleship is often about caring for the one’s who simply get in our way and are under foot. I put it that way because I often think that God brings the ones, we are meant to help to us. We don’t really have to go looking around the world; perhaps just next door.
3. We are not to think of ourselves as being more important than the person next to us. We are not to compare our faith walk with that of our neighbor.
The disciples were keyed on comparing themselves to one another. Sometimes I think this something that a person young in the faith might do. It happens when we start thinking that we are more spiritually mature or more gifted than the next person. Maybe we think we are better because we are giving more or working harder. Maybe we might think we are smarter and so we think we are better.
This was probably where the disciples were. But what we might fail to ask ourselves is what does God think about us, or what is it that is important to the Lord?
The apostle Paul once wrote, (Philippians 2:1-4) So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interest but also to the interest of others.”
If we measure who gives the most, who prays the most, who attends the most, etc, we may become so busy looking at others that we miss opportunities and the need for our own spiritual growth. We end up taking our eyes off the one who truly is to be our example and standard. It does not matter how much we measure up to one another, what matters is how much we measure up to Christ.
There are a lot of things we do not know, and probably many things we will never know (about when the end of the world will come, or who really is the greatest), but our path to individual greatness, and our opportunity to follow Jesus along the way comes in the form of service to others. Learn this lesson and you will be great. Amen