For September 23, 2018 (Proper 20, Year B)

Mark 9:30-37 (see below): Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

Do we really believe this? I'm not sure I know how.

Politicians, no matter the party, love to say that all they care about is serving the people, but we know that this is NOT all they care about.

There's nothing more ludicrous than people who try to impress us with their selflessness.

For them acting selfless is a strategy for winning a race: act like you don't want to be first, so you can wind up first after all.

But that's not what Jesus meant.

He meant STOP WANTING TO BE FIRST!

And that's the part I don't know how to do.

When I manage to be self-effacing, there’s always a deeper wish, often unacknowledged, that people (or at least God) will commend me for how selfless I am. That’s still wanting to be first.

Or I think about one of my favorite childhood stories, the Ugly Duckling. The “duckling” turns out to be a swan, who can then look down on its nest mates as inferiors. That’s turning the tables, but it’s still wanting to be first.

So I don’t know how to stop that. 

What I do know is that, even when I’m fooling myself about what I really want, sometimes I do forget about myself, and about my status, and that those are the best moments I've ever known.

The word for that is grace.

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Mark 9:30-37: Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 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. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”