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Tuesday, September 15, 2009
FIRST IN CARING Jesus calls us to receive and practice this wisdom about those who are great in God’s reign: God’s wise children are called to welcome and care for “little ones” among us. Wise ones reach out with encouraging presence to those who are vulnerable. Wise ones live close to God by living justly with neighbor. Wise hands do good. Focus Scripture: Mark 9:30–37 This passage is preceded by two stories where the disciples are not shown in a favorable light. Peter and two others are terrified when Jesus is transfigured. Next comes the inability of the disciples to heal a child who has seizures. The vulnerability born of such fear and failure sets the backdrop for the second passion (from Greek word meaning “suffering”) prediction. The three passion predictions in Mark point to Jesus’ suffering in Jerusalem. They emphasize a sense of urgency, underscored by the disciples’ failure each time to understand. The Greek word translated in verse 33 as “argued” is dialogizomai. It is the root for “dialogue.” It can mean to dispute or argue in a negative sense. More positively, it also can mean to reason or debate as a way of learning. The disciples’ silence when Jesus asks them about their “dialogue” could be taken as implying they argued. Or, their silence could represent a fear on their part to share their thoughts openly with Jesus, as they still did not understand the importance of Jesus’ teaching about his suffering and death. Centering Jesus’ teaching on greatness around a child raises interesting issues. Childhood in Palestinian, as well as Roman, society could be harsh. They often were the first victims of famine, disease, or war. While important to their families, children were almost “non-persons” in the society. In that sense, they held much in common with the community that Mark’s gospel first addressed. This early Christian community lived as a small minority in an increasingly hostile empire. Jesus demonstrates a different ethic and valuing of children, more in line with the treasuring of a child seen in Psalm 127:3 or Ruth 4:14–15. Jesus takes a child in his arms and declares that to welcome one who is powerless and vulnerable is also to welcome Jesus. Mark’s community might have felt themselves embraced in Jesus’ arms. Jesus’ ensuing call to welcome such vulnerable ones may have been heard as the logical outcome of their own welcome. Words of challenge to relationships run through Mark’s text. Jesus announces the upside-down word that greatness comes in service. The welcoming of a child enacts the call to welcome others into the circle of community. Community is ongoing as individuals and even leaders come and go. That is what makes the welcome of others, including those who are vulnerable, all the more crucial. For if we cannot find and give welcome here, where can welcome be found? Shalom (peace) means more than an absence of conflict. It includes all that makes for life, including caring for others. The peace extended by welcome in the gospel is reflected in the call to such wholeness in life found in the additional readings. Proverbs 31:10–31 celebrates hands that work for the good of others. Psalm 1 talks about life prospering in the doing of that which is right. James 3:13—4:3, 7–8a places “peaceable” early in the list of that which defines such wisdom, and links a “good life” with one “full of mercy.” As a church, we form a community that embraces, empowers, and equips. When we reach out with Jesus’ welcome to all, including those who are most vulnerable, we are living in God’s ways. Who might Jesus be setting in our midst today while saying, “whoever welcomes one such as these, welcomes me”? In what ways do our own vulnerabilities as individuals and as a church shape how we care for others?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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