Parallel Texts: Matthew 17:22-23; 18:1-14; Luke 9:43-50
Jesus and the disciples are on the road heading for home. As they walk along, Jesus tells them a second time that He must die and rise again. Of course, the disciples aren’t really sure what all of that means, so they don’t speak much, for this discussion scares them. Later on, they began to argue among themselves.
When they arrive, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about. They don’t want to tell Him, because they had been arguing about which would be the greatest. As you might expect, they really didn’t need to tell Him; He already knew.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”
They were arguing about which would be the greatest, and Jesus tells them clearly that if you want to be great in the Kingdom, you must be the servant of all! Well, I can just imagine how this struck them; probably it struck them much the same way it strikes us. To be great I need to become a servant? This wouldn’t seem to reflect the way we normally think. Yet the Kingdom doesn’t operate the way the world does, does it? Whoever welcomes a little child, welcomes Jesus, and if you welcome Jesus, you welcome His Father, for it would seem that God Himself isn’t one to lord it over anyone.
Another subject comes up: The disciples were irritated that someone else was driving out demons in Jesus’ name; Jesus was cool with it. This person, whoever it was, was acting in Jesus’ name, and if that is so, he isn’t opposing Him: Anyone who isn’t against Him is for Him. I hope that we can all spare a few moments to reflect on that statement, for it is profound indeed, especially in a Kingdom context.
Our passage ends with Jesus teaching the disciples about things that cause a person to stumble in their faith. It is important for us to recognize that Jesus is using hyperbole here; no He is not commanding that we disfigure or dismember ourselves. What He is teaching is a priority system of putting God first, putting His kingdom first, and always serving the Kingdom and our Lord in humility, lest we should fall away and come to a desperate situation. Anyone who causes another person to be thus damaged will regret their actions.
With that said, I hope we don’t lose sight of the fact that amidst all of this hyperbole, there is a positive teaching, one of love and brotherhood, one of hope and eternal life. Purpose, always purpose, and not condemnation. We are the salt of the earth, and salt is a preservative. It is also a flavor enhancer, bringing out all of the flavors within a food, just as we can bring out all of the nuance and flavor of God in us in a world that is starving for light and goodness. Yet salt is a funny thing: Too little and everything is bland and unappealing. Too much can be lethal, but just right brings out the best of everything.
We might want to reflect on this, too.