Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, September 23, 2012:

Jeremiah 11:18-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 1:16—2:1, 12-22

Psalm 54

God is my helper; it is the LORD who sustains my life. (Ps. 54:4)

James 3:13—4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

This week’s Gospel reminds us of the order of things in God's kingdom. In the fallen world, the rich are first; everybody else gets along as best they can. In our modern world, as was true during most of human history, the lives of the non-rich feel increasingly precarious.

Jesus comes to proclaim the new Kingdom, where the situation is reversed.

Many preachers will focus on the warm and fuzzy angle of children in this Gospel. While I do think Jesus loved children, I don't think that's why he refers to them here.

Children are some of the most vulnerable members of society. Many people have said that we can judge a society by how it treats its most vulnerable members, who are often children, the elderly, the ill, the mentally unstable, the poor. Many Bible stories remind us that we, as individuals, will be judged by God based on how we treat the most vulnerable. The child in this Gospel is a metaphor for all of the most vulnerable. We are judged by how we receive these people.

We live in a world that doesn't value the vulnerable. We live in a world that worships power, fame, and wealth. Look at any magazine on any given week or month, any news show on any given day, any newspaper on any given day: you won’t see many stories about the destitute. You’ll see even fewer stories about the people who serve those who are vulnerable in this way.

Those of us who have worked to adopt the servant ethos can tell a different tale. Those people might talk about how good it feels to serve, how their own desires disappear in the face of those that are needier than they are.

But there is a bigger reason why we're called to serve: God hangs out with the lowly. Go back to your Scripture. See how often God shows up with the poor, the outcast, the lowest people in the social structure. We serve, so that we meet God. We serve, so that we serve God.

This Gospel reminds me of the 25th chapter of Matthew, where humans are separated depending on whether or not they fed Jesus or clothed him or visited him while sick or in prison. And the ones headed to eternal punishment say, "When did we ever see you hungry or naked or sick or in prison?" And we get the classic rejoinder in verse 45: "Truly I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me."

We serve God by serving. Leaf through the Gospels and let yourself be struck by how much of the message of Jesus revolves around this message. We are called to serve. We elevate ourselves not by making ourselves better, but by serving others, by serving those who have the least to offer us.

Again and again, Jesus reminds us that the world at large is not the world we're to emulate. We're called to create the Kingdom where the least will be first, where we each serve each other.

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