A Reflection on Mark 9.30-37 by The Rev. Sarah Rogers
I have noticed that Jesus often goes away quietly with his disciples to teach them. He focuses on this small, chosen group of followers so that they will be better informed of what he is about and will therefore be able to pass on his teaching to the wider community. The central focus of his teaching is that he will die and rise again and in order to explain this he tells them many things about the Kingdom of God. There are many new things that the disciples need to grasp, and time is short, as Jesus repeatedly has to tell them, he is not going to physically be there for ever, time is short.
The disciples are incredibly reluctant to accept that this young man is going to die. After all he is not only their teacher and they have witnessed him doing great miracles. How can it be that he is going to die. However, Jesus persists in his task to make the rather reluctant disciples understand this new dimension in Jesus’ ministry. This is the second time out of three that Jesus has had predicted his death and resurrection in Mark’s gospel. The disciple’s still don’t get it, but Jesus nurtures his disciples, he is patient with them (at least most of the time).
Jesus’ task is to make the disciples realise that his death is not going to be a tragic accident it is the ultimate goal of his ministry. He does this gradually, the details have yet to be explained, they will become clear in time. Jesus also hints at the fact that his death is not going to be the end, ‘three days after being killed, he will rise again’.
Although the disciples continue to misunderstand what Jesus is telling them about his death, resurrection and the new Kingdom, he patiently puts them right, he nurtures and teaches them.
As the disciples begin to realise that they are about to lose Jesus, they also begin to realise that they need someone to take on the authority, that is why they want to know ‘who is the greatest?’ But, Jesus looks at this question of status rather differently, as far as he is concerned ‘the first will be last’. Jesus firmly tells the disciples that they should not seek greatness, rather, they should seek to be last. Their ministry is to be servants and not to dominate. Jesus turns things upside down. The outcasts of the Jewish society at the time, gentiles, women and children will be first in the kingdom of heaven.
I can’t help thinking that Jesus thought like a woman. How often have women been the unsung heroes, the power behind the throne, the ones doing the cooking and cleaning whilst their men are out doing powerful things. Women understand the role of servant, for some it has been a role they have been forced into, for others a role that they have fallen into and been quite happy with and for others to serve has been their ultimate goal. Servant-hood is certainly not something to be fought against rather, Jesus teaches us that it is desirable.
I am also struck by the way Jesus appears in a nurturing, mothering role in the way he teaches his disciples. He uses the child as a visual example of what he means. Children are not valued in Jewish society, except perhaps by their mothers, they are expected to do as they are told.
What does all this mean? Well, I think it gives us hope that one day the gifts of women will be fully recognised. We must go on nurturing, gently teaching those around us that women have an equal place. Of course, that doesn’t just go for women, the mission of the church has always been to reach out to the deprived of society. This passage not only affirms the role of women within the church, but also gives us courage to continue just being.