There are days, Lord, when the biggest battle I face is the one against my own apathy. Forgive me when I just “don’t care”—when I fill my days with so many things that I don’t leave room for a focused encounter with your word and an intentional time of prayer. Ignite in my heart a renewed sense of purpose and passion for the things that matter to you.
Tonight’s passage is Mark 9:33-37:
And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
(Mark 9:33-37 ESV)
“And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.'”
What is it about a child that Jesus wanted his disciples to get?
In the context of this passage, Jesus is addressing the fact that his disciples were concerned over “who was the greatest.” In fact, they argued about it! But Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” And then he correlated this statement with receiving “one such child” in his name.
I don’t know what all Jesus meant when he said this. But the more I think about it, it makes sense: when we love and care for a child, we must assume a posture of humility. A child is honest and blunt. Despite your best efforts, a child will tell you if she is not happy with something. A child is not impressed with our accomplishments, titles, or salaries. What a child seems to want most is our attention. Our time. And giving that up for a child is a statement—you matter to me, more than my work, more than my pursuits. I don’t have to try to impress a child—if I am right there, paying attention and being devoted, the child is happy!
I think our attitudes toward the children in our midst are direct reflections of our attitudes toward God. If we are impatient, it will come out in how we relate to children.And if we are concerned about our own greatness, we might be less likely to embrace and make room for small children. If we are more concerned with humbly serving, in any way, we are likely to not only accept the children among us, but even value and treasure who they are, as they are.
Over and over in scripture, Jesus calls his followers to assume a posture of humility and servanthood. Setting aside whatever “rights” we have in order to serve someone else. With children, it’s easy to see the need for this attitude. But what about when it comes to others? Are we willing to likewise assume a posture of humility and servanthood when dealing with others? This is what we’re called to—the pursuit of being “servant of all.” This is a hard word! We are conditioned throughout life to desire greatness, to be “first.” Yet Christ says here that when it comes to receiving him, it’s not about the pursuit of greatness. It’s about an abiding humility that roots its sense of greatness in putting the needs of others first, as an act of honoring and serving and worshiping God.
I can hear it now, though… the concern that we can‘t always put others first. Sometimes we need to take care of ourselves! But that misses that rest of what Jesus said: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus doesn’t leave us high and dry when we honor his call to humility. When we assume the posture of humility, eager to serve (rather than to be served), we trust that Jesus has our backs, as a sort of “rear guard.” As we turn our eyes toward Jesus and pursue serving him with all our hearts, we can shed the burden of selfish ambition and desire for “greatness,” and instead enjoy being part of God’s story of greatness!
I find that my attitude toward children is often a good litmus test for where my heart is at. If I am looking for kudos and praise, I don’t start with a child! They’re fairly hard to impress! But as I consider this passage, I’m mindful that Jesus calls us not to push our way to the top, but rather to kneel—and find greatness in the beautiful act of bowing before God.