Mark 9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. (Mk. 9:32 NRS)
The Way of the Servant
Jump forward to after Jesus had gathered the disciples together for the Last Supper. Judas went to betray Jesus. The disciples fail to stay awake in the Garden and when the time comes for Jesus to be arrested there is chaos. Why, why were the disciples not prepared? Why did this surprise them? Listen again to verses, “for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again. But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Mk. 9:32 NRS)
Jesus had tried to get them ready. He avoided the crowds so he could prepare his disciples for what was to come. Jesus wanted them to understand. But they would not. We are told they were afraid to ask. What does this mean? Why would the disciples be afraid of Jesus unless they were afraid of learn and accepting what Jesus was saying?
We human beings have an amazing ability to be selective in our hearing and understanding. A person smokes and is warned that they may get cancer. They get cancer and say why me? A person is told that they need to get a Covid-19 vaccination, or they will eventually get Covid. They don’t get the vaccine and get Covid. Why, likely because they did not get the vaccine. Selective listening and understanding.
The disciples did not want to hear Jesus was going to die. They especially had difficulty with the rising again part. If Jesus were dead, how would he rise from the dead? No, the disciples are not really wanting to understand Jesus. Besides, why talk about death when they had something more important in their minds to figure out. They are maneuvering for positions, for places in a pecking order, a hierarchy so to speak.
Jesus asks them what was so seemingly important to them. “But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.” (Mk. 9:34 NRS) Isn’t that is what is important? Your position? How many of us have been asked pecking order questions? Questions like, “What do you do for a living?” Or where did you go to school, where do you go to church, where do you vacation in the summer, what are your pronouns, etc… These questions help place you in an order of importance, relevance, or whatever another’s mind creates. We all do this. We do it subconsciously. We can learn to limit this activity but not escape it. It is likely one of the aspects of deciding for ourselves what is good and evil.
Jesus knows if the disciples cannot get past this test, this temptation, this being tied to the way of the world they will not survive what is to come. They must grasp this truth Jesus taught and lived, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
So, he teaches them through the actions and example of a child. Who is this child Jesus picks? We are not told. We are told that Jesus took a little child and put the child among them. Was the child afraid? Was it a boy or a girl? We are not told. I don’t believe questions like this can help. What we need to focus on is what Jesus says.
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Mk. 9:37 NRS)
In the Gospel of Luke, we find almost the same words as in Mark, but in Luke we see how what the Lord is teaching ties in with this child. Note, “and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest.”” (Lk. 9:48 NRS)
We Westerners tend to romanticize this story and make it look like Jesus had a special relationship with the children when in fact the story is to show that Jesus special relationship was with all men and women as well as children. Jesus was authentic, trustworthy, and did not try to hide his private life. Allowing the children into his life was proof of that authenticity.
Thus, in this simple statement Jesus sets the foundation that is required to have a relationship with him that is in line with the reality of God’s Kingdom. Our Lord’s actions and words define the requirement for leadership, serve. If we are to learn the true power in leading one needs to grasp the depth of what Jesus says about serving.
In this passage Jesus reveals that human beings need to desire to be a person who would welcome another person or persons even if that person or persons cannot help you in any way and likely will require you to help them. In this act of welcoming in Jesus’s name that sets the reality from which you operate. To accept one in Jesus’s name indicates a willingness to accept others in the same way Jesus would, in the love of and for God. In our willingness to accept this is also an implied responsibility to help.
Next Jesus states that we just do not welcome a child, a person in Jesus’s name we also welcome Jesus. This act of hospitality not only brings us into a relationship with the one we welcome we also are in fact welcoming Jesus. Now remember, Jesus is dealing with the wrong views the disciples have about position, power, authority, and purpose. He reminds them that he has called them and will empower them to be different. In a later discussion Jesus tells the disciples, “It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:26-28 NRS)
It is Jesus that defines our faith. It is Jesus who is our intercessor before God the Father. It is Jesus who is the example to follow if we wish to grow in the Kingdom of God.
And lastly, to connect with Jesus means you are connecting with God. You cannot welcome one without the other. God always has been, is, and will remain a God who reveals in truth and calls us to faith in mystery. There is no room for human ambition in the Kingdom. It is ambition that brought about the downfall of Satan. It was ambition that led to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Instead desire to be one who welcomes the child in every person. Desire to be the one who hears the words at the end of life, “We done good and faithful servant.”
 Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M.