Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

It’s How You Play the Game-But Which Game?
Mark 9:30-37
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 20)
Analysis by Cathy Lessmann (based on an earlier analysis by Ed Schroeder)

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for 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.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. 33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37″Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

DIAGNOSIS: Entangled in a Deadly Game

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Eliminating Others
This is the second time in Mark’s Gospel that Jesus predicts his death and resurrection; but the disciples, for the second time (at least) do not catch on to what Jesus is talking about. They do “not understand [hear] what he was saying” (v. 32). What’s plugging their ears? They are so totally caught up in their “king of the mountain” game (“who is the greatest?”) that they cannot comprehend that the “Son of Man” could possibly behave in any other way. This is where we, too, become implicated since we get entangled in the same game. We love our corporate pyramids, we scramble to get to the top, to be first, and we expect to earn God’s pleasure for our successes. What we do not pay attention to are all those “no-counts” whom we have to eliminate on our way up the ladder, those people-such as children-who can do nothing to further our ascent. We have to ignore, if not exclude, them in order to be first. That becomes our modus operandi, the way we “play the game.” And as “Survivor,” the latest popular American television show starkly demonstrates, it is not a pretty game. The most conniving and vicious make it to the top. Therefore it is not surprising that the disciples are arguing (wanting to put the other in his place) on their way.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Speechless Eliminators at Heart
Missing the point of Jesus’ prediction, the disciples are “afraid to ask him” about it (v. 32). They (and we with them) are afraid to be exposed. They fear that Jesus will see through them and know that at heart their modus operandi possesses and controls them, and that they prefer it. Worse, they fear that it will become apparent that their modus operandi contrasts drastically with Jesus’ own-that of being “last and servant of all” (v. 36). The attempt to conceal the inner truth of our being, however, only makes the matter worse, because then we also are unrepentant.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Eliminated
God does not play the same game we do. When we assume “first” place, we do not find God’s welcoming arms at the top of the mountain. That’s because all along God was there among the “no-counts,” the “least of all,” the children he had sent “in his name”-all those we have ignored and eliminated. They were his emissaries, but since we never welcomed them, we missed out on finding Jesus and the one who sent him. The combination of this gaffe and our being so oblivious to a Messiah who is “last of all and servant of all” puts us in danger of permanent “last-ness.” That kind of “last-ness” is “lost-ness.” Bluntly put, eliminators get eliminated-by God!

PROGNOSIS: The Game that Includes

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Welcomed by the “Last of All”
Jesus is the Messiah even for losers who have chosen “lost-ness” for themselves. Incredulous to us, Jesus the Christ welcomes (not eliminates) all those who betray and ignore Him because His modus operandi is to be “last of all and servant of all.” As “servant of all,” He serves us, the “lost,” by seeking us out and saving us. How he saves us is pinpointed by his passion prediction: “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” (v. 31). Jesus gets eliminated in our place (“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”), and in so doing, turns our “king of the mountain” game upside down. We discover God’s pleasure at Calvary, in the one who is “servant of all.”

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Welcomers
Instead of having to live in embarrassed silence, we get to respond to Jesus’ offer of salvation with a resounding “yes!” We welcome Him by trusting him-the opposite of speechless fear. That “yes” is the catalyst of our repentance, the turn-about inside our hearts. With that about-face comes the freedom to drop the old game of “king of the mountain” and a new capacity to adopt Jesus’ modus operandi as our own. It’s the truly new game: “Unconditional Welcoming.” Repentance radically transforms us from eliminators into welcomers.

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Welcoming God by Welcoming the World’s Unwelcome
With such an about-face, we cannot help but start acting like Jesus, and what a difference that makes. It changes not just the game we play, but how we play it. We quit arguing and conniving and instead delight in serving everyone, even (maybe especially) the world’s most Unwelcome-those in the sub-basement of the world’s value charts. We are not even surprised to find God’s welcoming arms, His good pleasure, down among the “last of all,” the no-counts. But to tell the truth, that is no longer on our minds since even that was part of the old game from which we have been freed.


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