Readings for the day (Lectionary 26, Sunday, September 30, 2018):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
If you were here a few weeks ago, the Gospel reading was the eight verses that precede the reading for today. However, the way the lectionary divides the reading up makes it appear that there are two different stories going on. But that’s not true. This is the same story. The same people. The same setting.
To refresh your memory, Jesus is traveling with His disciples and He gives them the second of three predictions about His death and resurrection. He tells them that He is going to be betrayed, killed and three days later, rise. But the disciples of course don’t understand any of this and instead argue amongst themselves over who is the favorite and best disciple. So to get their attention, when they stop traveling for the day, Jesus takes a child in His arms and says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Now that is where the lectionary ended this reading. Today’s reading picks up with the next verse. Keep in mind, however, that this is still the same store. The same people. The same setting. So we can assume that this child that Jesus took in His arms, is still there. We are not told that the child left. So this child is still in Jesus’ arms when John interrupts Jesus while He is teaching to ask about someone who he noticed was casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but who wasn’t a part of their group. It would seem that what John is most concerned about is having complete control of the work they are doing. This person that John saw wasn’t one of the disciples or a close follower of Jesus. John wanted to control the situation because this person was doing work in Jesus’ name but he wasn’t an insider. He wasn’t part of their group. Plus John figured Jesus would be concerned about this too. So if he interrupts Jesus while He is lecturing the disciples on how they screwed up, AGAIN, then maybe, just maybe, this would redirect Jesus on to a different topic and He would forget all about what the disciples were arguing about. Nice try John. It didn’t work. In fact, the whole idea backfires on him. Instead of Jesus being glad that John was concerned about the whole thing, Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Don’t stop or prevent people who are trying to help our cause.
We can certainly relate to John. We like control. We long for control. We feel more comfortable when life is happening on our terms, on our timeline, under our control. We like to have control of our life. But the reality is, is that many parts of our lives are out of our control. Take this year’s harvest for example. And when that happens, when we don’t have a sense of control of our own lives, we tend to turn to attempts at controlling someone else’s life. But we all know that NEVER works. When counseling couples before they get married, I tell them that the only person they can change is themselves. They will not be able to change their spouse (or anyone else for that matter). And yet for some reason, even though we know that controlling other people never works, that doesn’t stop us from trying. And then when we realize that it really doesn’t work to control someone else’s life, then we turn to trying to control God. As if controlling God is easier than controlling our neighbor’s life. John was uncomfortable with someone from outside their inner circle doing healings in Jesus’ name. John thought that only the people who have been with Jesus since the beginning should be able to do that work. John was trying to put God into a box. It is very easy as a church to put God into a box. You’ve used or heard the phrases, “We’ve always done it that way.” Or, “We’ve never done that before.” We, too, get uneasy with God acting in ways that are outside of our expectations and norms. It is uncomfortable for us for God to work outside of our box. Much of Jesus’ ministry, though, was showing that this just doesn’t work. That God does not and will not fit into a box of our own fabrication. Jesus interacted with Gentiles and Samaritans and lepers and tax collectors and demon possessed people and anyone else who knew that they were a sinner and in need of redemption.
Our God does not fit into any size box. And Jesus continuing His lesson to the disciples, says that not only will a box not contain the actions of God, but the odds will certainly not be in anyone’s favor if they get in the way of God’s actions and become a stumbling block. Jesus says all of this while still holding this child in His arms. He says that if anyone becomes a stumbling block for this little one (or any little one for that matter), it would be better if a great millstone were hung around your neck and thrown into the sea. Better? Having a huge rock tied to your neck and thrown into the sea would be the BETTER punishment for being a stumbling block for others? Jesus is so annoyed with His disciples right now. They have begun their journey to Jerusalem for His crucifixion and they STILL don’t get it. They think this ministry is about them. It’s not! It’s not about them. It’s not about us. It’s about God’s love for His children. And there is no one who understands true love more than a child who is picked up and held in the loving arms of a parent or grandparent because they fell down and hurt themselves. Jesus uses children as an example on how we ought to love God, because children get it. Children understand true, simple, no strings attached kind of love.
Jesus’ point is that He cares about people. He cares about all people. That is, all people who know that they are sinners. People who know that they have screwed up and should be thrown into the sea with a great millstone around their neck – or maybe even something worse. Jesus doesn’t care about who is the greatest. He doesn’t care about how you compare to your neighbor. Jesus doesn’t care how much money you have or what car you drive or how fast run. All Jesus cares about is saving the people whom He loves from the punishment for their sins. That’s it! That’s what Jesus is most concerned about. He is most concerned about you, and your well-being. More so your spiritual well-being, than your physical well-being. But nevertheless, Jesus cares about you! And He is heading to Jerusalem to show you just how much He really does care about you. Jesus didn’t go to the cross for Himself. He went to the cross for you. To save you. To forgive you. To free you. Not out of obligation, but out of love. So no matter how this harvest turns out in the end, God’s love for you is so great and He cares about you so much, that as a child of God, He picks you up in His arms and holds you tight; no matter what! Just as Jesus did while He was talking to His disciples. You are loved by God. Amen.
© 2018 Anthony Christoffels. All Rights Reserved.