Monday, September 24, 2007

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.



At 9/24/2007 8:23 AM, Blogger jcubsdad said...

Well said. I work in a ministry that works with Children and the "least of these" and I still have to remind myself all the time that they are where it truly is at!

At 9/24/2007 9:47 AM, Blogger John Frye said...

You are indeed privileged to work with the little ones of whom such is the kingdom.

At 9/26/2007 12:31 PM, Blogger Andrew Kenny said...

Excellent post. But you think 'Jewish culture in Jesus' day was paranoid about recognizing the greater and the lesser in the social order'. The evangelical church is exactly the same though they try to spiritualize it.
I liked this post alot because it is true, because it is biblical, because I am prone to sin in this area: in my heart if not outwardly.
I hope to do some research on a Rev. John Stott an upper middle class Englishman, who studied at Cambridge , came out with a double first,has written 50 books,is recognised as 'the Pope' of evangelicalism,yet- his humility is legendary. If anyone had a 'worldly' or 'natural' excuse to be proud it would be him. Yet- he would literally clean the boots and shoes of those who would host him in their house.

Thanks for your post as it reminded me of a very important truth.

P.S. If you have time check out my latest post by Jamie Smith on postmodernism.

At 9/27/2007 5:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good Day :) God is Love, May you experience God's Love this Day, may we really learn to Praise him in all things :) Lets Share God's Love today :) You are Loved!

At 9/29/2007 8:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder, John, about not looking for the status that comes from our achievements. The intentional humbling of ourselves is a hard lesson to learn and train for all of our life long. Getting to the point of not caring whether I am noticed and recognized or not is slow and hard work.

At 9/29/2007 8:43 AM, Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Yes, I'm afraid your last sentence is all too true. And I need to look at myself in the mirror, first.

Great thoughts on where true greatness lies. And I appreciate much your point about children in Jesus' day.

At 10/04/2007 2:38 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

andrew kenny,
I know that status paranoia does create anxiety for a lot of evangelicals. Peer pressure still shapes too many people.

I appreciate your kind words and I am glad the post encouraged and challenged writing it challenged me.

At 10/04/2007 2:38 PM, Blogger John Frye said...


Thanks for your blessing.

At 10/04/2007 2:40 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

I think we will be continually challenged by the depths of the Jesus Way until we reach our final and great transformation.

At 10/04/2007 2:41 PM, Blogger John Frye said...

Thanks for commenting. The challenge of Jesus and his call upon our lives invites us into a continual humbling process. I believe repentance is a lifestyle, not just an act we do once in a while. God bless you and your fine writing.

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