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Pentecost 17, 2021 — 19 Sep 21

Pentecost 17, 2021

RCL Year B, Proper 20 (Alternate Readings)
Jeremiah 11:18-20, Psalm 54, James 3:13–4:3 and 7-8a, Saint Mark 9:30-37

The Gospel today contains something new and something old.

The old is Jesus’ prediction of his passion and resurrection. It is the second time in Mark that he makes this prediction. The first was in the Gospel last Sunday. And you recall that Peter chose to rebuke Jesus about the prediction. This time, however, you notice that the disciples do not argue with Jesus.

They have been arguing among themselves, and this is what is new. They have learned not to argue with Jesus about what is going to happen. Instead they are arguing with one another about who is the greatest among them. They are dividing the glory and honor among them, just as the soldiers divide Jesus’ garments at the foot of the cross.

The disciples have made some progress, I suppose, but they still have something to learn. And Jesus is there to teach them: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”[1] His kingdom is not about being first; it’s about being last, for glory and honor enfold those who put themselves last, those who sacrifice themselves for his Name. The illustration of this lesson in self-sacrifice is a child. Jesus takes it in his arms. Jesus puts himself at the disposal of the child for the child’s wellbeing and proclaims, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”[2] In other words, whoever humbles himself before a helpless child for the name of Jesus gains the glory and honor that Jesus has to give. By being last they may be first in Jesus’ estimation.

The disciples need to learn this lesson, and they will. When Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection, he also is predicting the disciples’ passion and resurrection. They have the rest of their lives to learn this. And so do we if we haven’t caught on.

In Christ we have the freedom and the ability to do more than just react and to behave as we always behave. We can decide to be the person Christ wants us to be. We can decide to be the person God made us to be. The very definition of sanity is to expect a different result, because we do a new thing. Jesus calls us to do that very new thing every day, world without end.


[1] Saint Mark 9:35.

[2] Saint Mark 9:37.

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