“If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35).

I’d say this command ranks up there with “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” as the most difficult of Jesus’ expectations.  In an age like our own, characterized by privilege, entitlement, and an insistence on having our way, maintaining our rights and being respected, it may be a deal-breaker for some.

And yet, Jesus is dead serious.

The words come after another of the disciples’ “arguments.”  This time, they were fussing over who among them would be the greatest.  To their shame, the argument took place just after Jesus had told them (for the second time) that he would be betrayed and killed (“Never mind you Jesus.  What about us?”).  Beginning with this second prediction, and moving through the third, Mark devotes the next sixty-five verses to the discipleship requirement of selfless living. Three times in that section, he illustrates his message with children.

The illustration is a bit lost on us because our world prizes children, gives them priority, and does everything to protect them and see to their success.  But in Jesus’ world, children were regarded little more than slaves.  Abortion was common, as was infanticide.  Jesus’ point was this: if you are going to follow Him, you must be willing to take the status of a child in the ancient world – which was no status at all.  How important is this selfless attitude?  Without it, Jesus will say later, there is no entrance into the Kingdom of God.  Whereas selfless living may be a deal-breaker for us, self-centered living was a deal breaker for Jesus.

Faith Struggle

“If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:23)

Deb Hotaling has a 20 year old son. He is six and a half feet tall and weighs 200 pounds. Over all in excellent health, he does however, have autism. He functions at the intellectual level of a 6 year old and like most 6 year olds, he can get violent when frustrated. Unlike other 6 year olds however, his outbursts can be dangerous to himself and others.

Ms. Hotaling is her son’s care-giver. What will she do when she can’t calm him any more? What will happen to him should something happen to her?

Reading her plight this morning I was reminded of this story in Mark 9. A father had an adult son, demon possessed all his life. Periodically, the young man would lose physical control of himself, sometimes endangering his life. I would imagine a father in such circumstances would try anything to help his boy, and in such desperation he came to Jesus.

He made a mistake though: he confessed a lack of faith – to which Jesus responded with enough incredulity to make the father think help might not be forthcoming.

Everybody struggles with faith. Does God care? Can God help? Will God help? Will He help the way I want him to? Yes, yes, yes, and perhaps. The hard part of the struggle is confidence with the yeses, and being happy with whatever the “perhaps” brings. Only then will we truly overcome unbelief. Fortunately, as he did for the father in Mark 9, Jesus works in our behalf in the meantime.

Instead of Prayer

“What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. (Mark 9:16)

Whenever I read the story in Mark 9:14-29 I am reminded of the Israelites at Sinai. Moses went up Sinai to be with God, and left on her own, Israel turned quickly to idolatry. Here, Jesus leaves nine apostles on their own while he ascends the Mount of Transfiguration. The next thing he knows, they’ve gotten themselves into an argument.

A man with a desperately ill adult son has brought his boy to Jesus for healing – but Jesus isn’t there. So the father settles on the nine disciples. Here, the details of the story become sketchy. What becomes prominent however is NOT the inability of the disciples to heal the son, but what they spend their time on instead – arguing with the scribes.

Arguing gets a lot of press in Mark. The people argue with each other about who Jesus is. The Pharisees argue with Jesus. The disciples argue among themselves. And now, the disciples argue with the teachers of the law.

Jesus doesn’t argue. He just heals the boy.

Later, when the disciples ask “why” they couldn’t do the healing, Jesus says the healing could only come about by prayer.

Do you get the contrast? The disciples could have accomplished more had they spent less time arguing and more time in prayer. Around us are people desperate for hope. They won’t find it among a people who spend their time bickering. They will only find it in a confident people who in times desperate and otherwise have their eyes focused heavenward on the only hope there is.