In Mark 9:30-37 we find Jesus’ disciples identifying with power in the way our world normally does. Perhaps it’s a bit refreshing to know that even the disciples struggled with this. But as Christians who carry Christ in our name, we must pay attention to the person of Christ. How does Jesus respond? He brings a child into the discussion.
While the disciples identify with power, Jesus over and against them identifies with a child, the epitome of weakness and dependence in that culture and in others.
While Jesus cherishes the insignificant (by his culture’s standards), the disciples were guilty of cherishing and embracing power and a certain way of thinking about power that is foreign to Jesus and his teachings.
Jesus’ disciples arguing about power and who is greater is not new. We can easily translate this into our time in which Jesus’ own are arguing about which form or type of power trumps the other. But Jesus does not share his disciples’ views on power; he instead identifies with a child, a foreshadowing of his shameful death in which he identifies with slaves (Roman crucifixion). Bottom line, Jesus in life and death refused to identify with power, making him the most peculiar of all rulers and lords. The temptation toward political compromise has always been there for the Church, and the unique situation is certainly no exception.
Jesus identifying with a child can be seen as an echo of the heart of God in the Old Testament and the way which God identifies with weakness rather than worldly power. In this same Testament, we read of how God’s people constantly gravitated toward idolatry and seeking help from all sources except for God, or reducing God to a kind-of footnote. One of the reasons the gods of the nations had such an appeal was the allure of prosperity and security.
Jesus’ refusal to identify with power ought to color how we see all of the world and engage in society. Of course there is a gravitational pull to let the opposite take place: allowing a certain view of power color how we speak, talk, and think politics. Gordon Fee notes that though the Corinthian believers were “the Christian church in Corinth,” the trouble was trying to get Corinth out of them.
Mark 9 stands as a warning of how Jesus does not want us welcoming power as the world does, but it’s also a reminder that Jesus loves and walks beside us despite our tendencies toward fallenness and despite our heated and petty arguments.
I know that this will not convince anyone of any political persuasion to change sides, and that’s not the point of this post. The main point is personal self-reflection in order that we, as God’s people, may avoid the age-old temptation to idolatry which plagued Israel in the Bible, and that is the idolatry of trusting in anything other than God. May we, in this turbulent season, still our souls and place our trust in God rather than in chariots and horses and modern political institutions, which even on their best day fail at reflecting the whole scope of God’s justice and shalom. The Republican Party and the Democratic Party each promise much but deliver very little. We need a radical move of God if things are going to get better for our country. We also need softer hearts. May God restore more of his people to their true humanity so that they may better reflect his Son. May we stand ready and on edge for a move of God.