I’m in Mark 9 right now in my reading. I try to cycle through the New Testament as often as I can, stopping and trying to understand particular verses when they get my attention. These verses here in verses 33-50 of chapter 9 certainly did that.
There was an argument among the disciples. They were discussing who was the greatest among them. When Jesus caught them they weren’t surprised (I mean we’re talking about Jesus here, they probably didn’t get away with much) but they were embarrassed. Or so it seems when I read it. Verse 35 tells us that Jesus sat down with them, the twelve, and said: “If anyone would be first he must be last of all and servant of all,” and then he does something that seems out of place. He takes a child into his arms and says to them that if they really want to be great in the way God measures greatness they should be like this child.
Now before I go any further here let me say that I don’t think Jesus is talking about innocence, which seems to be the standard Baptist interpretation. He was talking to grown men full of faults and fully conscious of their own sin. Abram, Moses, David and Ruth all murders of one sort or the other—yet used by God and ‘In the kingdom of heaven.’ Matthew 18:1-3 says “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
My personal opinion is that children are just the best. As long as their needs are met and they’re not pushed too far beyond their limits they will—for the most part—behave well if they know what’s expected of them. Good, bad, or wild—a child can steal your heart in a moment by the very fact that they must be humble on occasion. There are things they are incapable of doing on their own and they know it. If they need help sometimes the sneaky ones will cajole and manipulate but for the most part, they just ask.
This is probably the most important aspect of this sort of humbleness: the asking. So many times we come to an event or a decision bare handed and just plow right in. We’re adults though, not children, and its been awhile since we had trouble getting our own shoes tied. Children ask for help and when confronted with something they most do but are incapable of doing they will ask long and loud and fervently. Grown-ups are about doing. They’re about commanding and taking and getting. They don’t ask, they get! No humbleness, no prayerful requests. “Lord, give us this and that. Look at us. We’re praising you. We’re worshipping you. Give us our way!” Many a spiritual temper tantrum has been thrown in the pulpit because of some perceived need or want or emergency ministry opportunity that’s gone unfulfilled as if God is suddenly surprised by anything that happens.
Another thing about children is that they are generally content. Children will play anywhere. They will frolic in the face of disaster, they will make toys out of shell casings in a war zone. They are content—especially when they have their parents. It’s always amazed me how a child can be embroiled in a crisis but be still and calm if they know someone else is taking care of the things they can’t. They are not ashamed of what they are. They’ll crawl up in your lap and pop a thumb in their mouth and just be with you while the world rolls up around you and jumps in a hand basket.
Humble, content, and, lastly, eager to please—they want to do good things that please their parents. With our own children we accept what they do and correct them on the really bad things and cherish all of it. While there are obvious similarities here between the life of a child and the spiritual life of an adult, sooner or later the analogy breaks down. Paul reminds us that that there is a time to put down ‘childish things’. The time for sitting content passes by and we reach the point in our lives where we must pray…and then do. We must sit for a while with the Father…then stand up to ‘Go’.
I think there are at least two more posts on this passage for this week and maybe another next week.
Edit: That just shows what I know. *chuckle
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