This is an interesting text to have during primary election season, don’t you think? Newsfeeds are pretty much filled with people who are attempting to be first in a caucus here or a primary there. You can’t turn around without seeing or hearing the latest and greatest thing from Donald, Ted, Bernie, Hillary or any of the rest of the cast of characters. All are attempting to do anything and everything they can come out on top.[audio http://www.buzzsprout.com/33052/351479-no-surprises.mp3]
The disciples following Jesus would have understood this. They lived in a society where they were far from first. They were tradesmen, fishermen and laborers. They didn’t associate with proper society. They were so far down the ladder of cool kids that they couldn’t see second place much less first. But that didn’t keep them from aspiring to higher station. They wanted to move up, like most people do.
Such was their confusion about what it meant to follow Jesus. They wanted to move up in society. They even argued amongst themselves who was the greatest. I’m not entirely sure what to make of that. It isn’t something we do, is it? Many want to be the greatest but to make that claim out loud isn’t seen as very polite. Pastors don’t get together and make the claim they are the greatest. At anything. I can’t think of many people that would so it makes it challenging for us to fully grasp what they were saying.
They knew they were wrong though, didn’t they? Jesus calls them out on it. What are you arguing about? And what’s their response? Nothing. They say nothing. Which puts them in a tough spot because they’re about to hear something they probably don’t want to hear. They run into Jesus, they start following Jesus and now they hear this business about being last instead of first.
If you’re going to be a politician it only makes sense to aspire to be first although there is some weirdness about that this year on the Republican side of things. In most campaigns doesn’t do anyone any good for a politician to campaign for second place.
For the rest of us, Jesus has a different idea. Jesus uses the example of a child to make this point. It is an interesting choice of an example, this child business. It is actually rather shocking that Jesus would use a child as an illustration. The thing is, we see children through the eyes of someone who lives in the 21st century. Like I mentioned Sunday, today children are frequently lifted up as the most important thing in some people’s lives. This wasn’t so much the case in Jesus’ day.
Children had no social standing then. They weren’t the center of anyone’s world. The disciples were pretty far down the social standing ladder and their children were even farther down. As creatures totally dependent on some else for about anything and everything children just didn’t have any actual value.
It is a fairly recent phenomenon, say the last 125 years or so, where children were expected to survive very long. The harsh reality of life then is that survival wasn’t necessarily expected and there were some societies that didn’t even name kids until they’d been around a while. What was the point?
Coming from ashes and heading toward dust, Jesus ascends to the lowest position in society. A crucified criminal. No one likes a crucified criminal. A crucified criminal is the lowest of the low. Lower than tradesmen, fishermen and laborers. Of less use than children. Not even really a member of society at all and yet, Jesus is the one to go there. No life lived out in quiet desperation with a dignified funeral but instead a life that tipped the world on edge by loving one another as we love God, a life that played out in serving others and then ending in a horrific and shameful death.
All of this is something of a scandal. A scandal that we wear on our foreheads or hands tonight and a scandal we carry forward for the next 40 days. A scandal to be the last. A scandal to follow Jesus.