I don’t know about you, but I often catch myself mentally “poking fun” at the disciples. So many times in the gospels we see them completely missing the mark, all the while Jesus is right in front of them. They lack faith and they do exactly what Jesus preaches not to do.
Sounds like you and I sometimes, right? I’m always convicted after judging them.
In today’s reading, we encounter two examples of the sin of pride along with a startling passage about the gravity of sin in general. On the way to Capernaum, the disciples argue about who is the greatest—the one with the highest status, the most honorable, the one that will receive the best place in the kingdom. Instead of offering a harsh rebuke, Jesus gently urges them to sit down and listen.
If you wish to be great, Jesus says, you must be a servant. You must put yourself last, not first. You must put your pride to death. Jesus absolutely has the authority to give this charge, as He is the perfect example of humility: God come down to serve humanity.
The disciples don’t exactly learn this lesson the first time. John seems to exhibit some kind of elitism in the next passage. The disciples have tried to stop a man from casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he wasn’t a member of their group. Once again, Jesus responds with gentleness: “the one who is not against us is for us.” Christians are not an elitist group. We are all given the same mandate, and all have equal standing at the foot of the cross. Pride has no place in the church.
Our reading today ends with a strong charge to avoid temptation. Sin is so serious and so dangerous that if one’s hand causes him or her to sin, it would be better to just chop it off. Brothers and sisters, I feel we Americans are far too tolerant of our pride. We, like the disciples, wish to be the greatest and will often go to great lengths to ensure this.
Let us be mindful of imitating Christ’s humility today. The One who is the greatest came to serve, so let us do likewise. Let us avoid pride at all costs.
Mark 9:30-50 (ESV):
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.
33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 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.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”