They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Mark reminds us that we are “on the way” with Jesus, the code for teachings about following Jesus. The disciples have been arguing about “who is the greatest” - potentially about their place in the new-forming social order called the kingdom of God. Jesus asks them directly about their argument, but they are silent on the issue.
Once in a home in Capernaum, Jesus begins to teach them about servant leadership. “It is here that Jesus really begins to unmask his disciples’ true aspirations to power. Not only do they not understand where Jesus is trying to lead them; they are headed full speed in the opposite direction (Myers, 260).”
Jesus has just given the second passion prediction about suffering and death, and the discipleship have no clue what it really means. Jesus tells them directly, for the first time, that true leadership is about service. Leadership in the new social reality called the kingdom of God will be about putting others need first. The leaders will be the ones who serve on behalf of the community, putting the community’s needs above their own.
As an example, Jesus places a child among them. This is not to be idealize as some “child-like” state of faith and acceptance. This action by Jesus has social and political implications.
Myers cites Thomas Carney - The Shape of the Past: Models and Antiquity, 1975
“Age divisions, and commensurate power and responsibility, were hierarchical, sharply demarcated, and significant. Authority ran vertically downward. Age and tradition were revered and powerful… Early training was harshly disciplined. It was not until early adulthood that the young person began receiving serious consideration as a member of the family group [Carney, 1975:92](Myers, 261).”
Children were the lowest persons on the social ladder. They could not contribute to the well-being of the household or the honor of the family. It would have been quite shocking for Jesus to consider them a part of the new social reality.
“Again throwing the hearer’s social world into crisis with the radical status-reversal of the kingdom, Jesus lunch is his assault on the disciples’ concern for power (Myers, 261).”
Jesus will return to the role of children in the kingdom of God in next chapter.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- How do we continue to consider the shocking reality of the passion predictions and their role on our following of Jesus?
- What are some ways we participate in servant leadership?
- Where does our leadership takes us on behalf of the well-being of the community?
- What does it mean to be “last” in our social reality?