(Begin by reading the Gospel. Sometimes it is good to have someone read it to you. The Word is meant to be heard.)
In the Gospel for this Sunday, Jesus and his disciples are traveling alone. Usually, there are crowds everywhere, but they finally have some time alone together. Jesus takes this opportunity to try for a second time to speak to the disciples about his death and resurrection. It does not go so well.
Jesus 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.” But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
What do they not understand? It seems simple. He will be betrayed, he will be killed, he will rise again. What is the problem?
It is possible that they do not understand why Jesus says that he "is to be betrayed." Does that mean he must be betrayed? Does that mean betrayal is part of the plan? Is it impossible to avoid betrayal? And who, who would betray him?
It is possible that they do not understand what Jesus means by "human hands." Whose hands? "Human hands" makes it sound like everyone is responsible. Is that what Jesus means?
It is possible that they do not understand why Jesus keeps speaking calmly about being killed. If he knows he is going to be killed, why, for heaven's sake, are they heading towards Jerusalem where the crucifixions take place?? Can this not be stopped? What would happen if they prevent his death?
It is possible that they do not understand what Jesus means by "rise again." Same life? Different? Why will this happen? How will this happen? What will this look like?
They do not understand. They do not understand and they are afraid. They do not have courage. They are afraid of what they do not know. Understanding, courage, knowledge—three things they do not have. Three gifts of the Holy Spirit. Would they receive these gifts if they ask a question? What if asking a question invites in the Holy Spirit?
What would happen if they ask a question? What would Jesus say? We will never know.
Then they came to Capernaum; and when Jesus was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
First, the disciples do not ask a question; now, they do not answer one. They must feel pretty foolish. Jesus has been talking about life and death, about the Plan of God; they have been arguing over who is the best. Not very wise. (Wisdom—another gift of the Holy Spirit they could use right now.)
He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
The twelve have been trying to establish an order among themselves, deciding who is greatest, who is the first of all. However, determining the greatest means considering others as less. Others are considered not as great. The only way not to look at someone as less, is to consider everyone as greater. To be last and least. To be servant of all.
Servant? Not very grand. Not very glorious. Jesus seems determined to speak of things that are difficult.
Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms Jesus said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
When the disciples struggle without wisdom, without knowledge or courage or understanding, Jesus makes it all very simple. Welcome one such child, welcome me.
Why a child? Children are everywhere. Kings have them, movie stars have them, politicians have them. Garbage collectors have them, gas pump attendants have them, gardeners have them. There will always be children to welcome.
And everyone has been a child. Everyone knows what it is like to be one. If they stop to remember, people recall not understanding what is going on, being afraid, not knowing how to help themselves. They remember feeling foolish. Children know what it is like to be considered too little to help, to have an opinion, to matter. Everyone has been small. Everyone has been powerless.
Welcome the small, Jesus says. Welcome the powerless. Welcome them and you welcome me. Why? Well, that is the question, is it not? This question points us back to the cross, (what Jesus had been trying to tell the disciples about in the beginning). Hanging on the cross, Jesus is powerless. He is the weakest. He is the least. He is not strong. He dies.
Hanging on the cross, Jesus, the powerless, asks a question.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
He asks a question and he invites in the Holy Spirit.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
Jesus offers himself as the weakest, as the least powerful, and in doing so he welcomes in God. Jesus rises from the dead.
What does it do for the world when we welcome one in Jesus' name?
What if welcoming the small, the powerless, the foolish, the weak welcomes God into the world?
What if asking a question invites in the Holy Spirit?
What would our world be like then?