Jesus and His Rank Amateurs
It's about this time that I'd start slapping the disciples up side the head yelling, "Don't you get it, you dufi (plural for dufus)?!" The disciples' dufuscosity was in a league of its own. (I am indebted to David Duncan for the term 'dufuscosity' in his book The Brothers K.)
This Galilean rag tag bunch were in a dither about who was 'the greatest' among them. Like a fight among homeless people about who's going to the CEOs breakfast. In a culture obsessed with rank and recognition, the disciples were clamoring for seats close to Jesus. All of them wanted to be first and none of them wanted to be twelth. A little later on James and John will urge their Mommy to lobby for some chief seats for them.
Jewish culture in Jesus' day was paranoid about recognizing the greater and the lesser in the social order. As a host you never dared to seat a greater in a lesser seat. Pharisees, as you may recall, had a penchant for chief seats. Jesus once said that when you're invited to a banquet, don't take one of the "big" chairs, that is, don't flaunt your social rank. Sit in the back and let the host recognize you.
Notice Matthew rubbing his red, swelling eye? Peter punched him as the argument heated up along the road to Capernaum. I'm pretty sure that Peter thought he was the greatest. When they settled in the house, Jesus asked why they got into fisticuffs on the road. The disciples went mute, embarrassed or ashamed or stubborn, who knows?
I don't think USAmerican discipleship training ever elicits fist fights and the reason is we have trivialized and cheapened discipleship. The best we have is a fill in the blank workbook. For example,
"In Mark 9: 36 what did Jesus use as an illustration of his teaching?"
_____________________ [the answer: a child] Ooooooo. Isn't discipleship fun?
Jesus had something deep and wide in mind; he was out to re-train our whole way of life when he said, "Sit down. I'm going to train you now."
The child was chosen not because he or she was cute, or innocent, or 'precious', or trusting. The child was chosen because the child had no rank in the culture. No influence, no vote, no power, no say-so about who's in charge. Jesus was saying, "If you're going to fight, fight for the lowest place in the social order. Become the slave of all." That's just not in our DNA.
We start out early training children just the opposite. "How many stars did you get for your memory verse work?" "Seven, and Billy only got five! I'm better. I get a chiefer seat!"
But the plot doth thickeneth! "Taking [the child] in his arms, [Jesus] said to them, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.' "
Jesus takes the cultural rank of the little child as well as trains his Twelve to do the same. This can't be. This goes against the whole kit and kaboodle grain! But like the late night cable TV commercial, "Wait! There's more!!" Ponder these words: "...and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me."
The one who sent me. "Jesus, you've got to be kidding!" Are you saying, "God takes the powerless, vulnerable, weak rank of the child?"
Welcome to the new definition of "messiah." Welcome to a re-imaging of God.
No wonder we would just as soon fill out our neat workbooks and call that 'discipleship.' Because our discipleship is just the thinnest veneer over our American way of life.