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“Who is the Greatest?” How Shall We Answer?

Mark 9:30-37

Pentecost 18, Common Lectionary Year B

©Rev. Dr. Elisabeth R. Jones

“Who is the Greatest?”
Now there’s a question for the ages!
There is so much opportunity
in our current societal context to say something,
politically suggestive, pointed,
and I’m so tempted,
but that would be a witty, but empty, distraction.
So let’s not do that.

Let’s stay with this text,
trust it to speak on its own behalf;
because it has plenty to say to us, Cedar Park United,
to us, children of God.

First let me mind a gap, provide some texture to this text
so that we can better understand why this question
and Jesus’ answer is so important.
As the plot unfolds in the Gospel of Mark,
we have just crossed the point of no return.
You see, for eight chapters,
Jesus in his teaching, healing, ministry
has had one run-in after another with
Pharisees, and Scribes,
who know everything there is in Scripture
about God’s Anointed, the Messiah.
They’ve read that God’s Messiah will come with power,
will wield the strength of armies,
and will be strong enough to crush the might of Rome
with the wrath of God.
They are faithfully waiting, watching for greatness,
And they are now thoroughly convinced that
Jesus is not it.

He is a distraction,
He needs to be silenced.
He needs to be…. well you know the end of the story.
So here, in today’s text,
the shadow of the showdown is looming on the horizon.
And Jesus knows it.

Twice now, Jesus has told the disciples
that his Way of the living the Dream of God
will cost him his life.

And the disciples?
Mark doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the disciples:
12 Stooges, tripping over their clumsy tongues and feet,
getting it wrong time and again, missing the point,
But we shouldn’t laugh.
We after all, also claim to be, aspire to be, his disciples,
and do we get it, any more than they did?

Who is the greatest?
Depends who is asking doesn’t it?
If the world is asking the question,
the greatest,
is the one whose money lasts the longest,
whose influence reaches the widest,
whose control extends over the most,
whose power is the strongest.

And God forgive us, Stooge-like disciples
in the church that tries to follow Jesus’ Way,
we often count Gospel greatness by
the number of posteriors in pews,
attendees at Bible Studies,
volunteers in service ministries,
or God help us the number of degrees we get
in our attempts to serve more wisely.

We try Jesus, but we are clumsy fools.
Tell us again,
Who is the greatest?
Your answer is so startlingly simple, we miss it,
so graphic we don’t see it,
so ordinary, we don’t trust it,
to carry the freight of your Gospel.

But there you are,
you sit down, and sit us down,
and you capture our vision
with the measured action of your body.
You reach out to gather a little toddler,
probably not old enough to do more than babble, and cry,
and play in the dirt.
You lift this one onto your knee,
you gather her in your arms,
enfolding this bundle of dependent nothing,
this squirming vessel of possibility,
and you say

Is it the child itself, we wonder,
this glimpse of God’s new creation
that is the greatest in the Dream of God?
Or is it….
maybe it is your body, your bruised, broken body,
your risen body, now our body,
this body of Christ,
in the gathering, holding, enfolding,
welcoming of the littlest, the least?
Is it this, the heavenly embrace of earthlings,
this doing, that is the greatest thing
we could possibly ever do, in your name?


As we continue with our visioning processes
over the coming weeks,
As we ask ourselves who will we be as people of God
here in South Pointe Claire, let’s try imagining ourselves there,
in that house in Capernaum,
us, the child of God in Jesus’ lap,
dependent upon his welcome and embrace.
Let’s imagine ourselves among the disciples,
hearing his invitation to our spellbound souls,

“You can do this too.
You can notice,
you can reach out,
you can welcome the littlest, the least,
the lost, the last,
in my name!
And if you do, you will know greatness
to be nothing more, nothing less,
than sharing the love of God!”

In your bulletin today you received a bubble, a dream bubble.
We invite you to imagine;
what loving greatness does God wants of us?
What ache, what gap, what hurt,
what weakness within the fabric of creation,
what fractures in community and neighbourhood and world
does God want us to reach out and mend?
Whom will God set among us, for us to welcome,
and embrace as fellow children of God?

As and when the Holy Spirit inspires you, write down
your vision, your dream for our loving greatness.
Put it in the offering plate, or post it on the new poster
which will be outside.

We will keep them all,
and we will pray with them, discern with them
God’s Vision 2020 for us.

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