“What were you arguing about on the way?” Jesus, in Mark 9:30-37, NRSV.
“I am a realist – but without hope there is nothing.” Rob Burrow, on being offered the trial of a new American wonder drug for the Motor Neurone Disease he is battling.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus and his followers have now come to Galilee, his home ground and familiar territory. This is where Jesus first called his disciples (Matt.1:16-20) and where he will spend his last moments on earth with them (Matt.28:16). He is spending his time teaching his disciples what lies ahead but they are struggling to understand what he’s saying and also afraid to ask him about it. Jesus tells them that he is going to be betrayed, that he will be killed and will rise again – this is the second of three times in Mark’s gospel when Jesus speaks of suffering, death and resurrection. No wonder, after so many miracles and such large crowds, the disciples find this hard to accept – there is such a chasm between what they anticipate and what Jesus is predicting. As they travel, the disciples distract themselves by arguing which of them is the greatest and, when they arrive at Capernaum, they fall silent when Jesus asks them what they have been arguing about.
Jesus then calls the twelve to him and sits down, assuming the traditional posture of a rabbi when teaching. Although in his day children had little status, Jesus then calls a young child to him and takes the child his arms – a remarkable thing for a rabbi to do. He tells the disciples that whoever welcomes a child welcomes also Jesus and the One who sent him and this must have been astonishing for them, although it has already taken place with the birth of Jesus as a baby needing human love and care before growing up as a child in Nazareth.
Jesus happens to choose a child but is reminding his followers that all those of low status are to be welcomed, including the homeless, stateless, orphans, unwell, hungry…… In light of ongoing situations today such as the exodus from Afghanistan, the changing circumstances for those who remain and the worldwide consequences of the pandemic, do we accept those who come seeking welcome today? There is much to consider in what Jesus says whilst rising food costs, the increase in energy prices, climate change, the problems with the supply chain and the ongoing issues with Covid-19 mean that his words are as relevant now and that he challenges us today as well as his disciples then.
As we consider all this, it’s easy to become distracted like those first disciples. Despite the huge challenges before us all – and after dire predictions about what might lie ahead about which there is much disagreement – the National Economic Recovery Taskforce has already been dubbed the Committee to Save Christmas. The huge changes being faced at the moment are about much more than a shortage of carbon dioxide affecting the provision of turkeys for Christmas meals – but it’s certainly possible to focus on that and the early panic buying of Christmas presents and supplies as a distraction. There is so much to consider: who are the unexpected ones of our day that we need to welcome and what might astonish and challenge us as we consider the practical realities of faith today? As Rob Burrows bravely states, without hope there is nothing – in the midst of so much disagreement and confusion, where might that hope lie?
With my prayers; pob bendith,