Mark 9:30–37 (ESV)
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he did not want anyone to know, 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him. 33 And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” 36 And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
What do you think of when you think of a child? Generally, in our cultural context, we have some very warm, fuzzy images that come to mind. But that’s not the reality in many contexts of our world today. Some of the most difficult things that I’ve seen have been children in abject poverty in other countries, children exploited for physical labor, children in bondage to some idol, god, or demon, or worse—children trafficked for all kinds of evil purposes.
In Jesus’ cultural context, children were considered “less than.” Children were seen as less than and not very useful until such a time as they were able to be productive members of the family and society. Girls suffered greatly, they were considered a burden and were often thrown away, left in the elements for “nature to take its course” or worse, sold into slavery.
So it’s astonishing that Jesus answers the disciple's question regarding “who is the greatest” by bringing a child into their midst. The disciples have in mind some heroic figure who is full of faith. Instead, Jesus shows them a child. Why?
Here’s the point. Children in that context are the weakest, the lowest, and if the child with Jesus is a girl, Jesus is making some incredible points; 1- that the kingdom of God is for everyone including the weakest, lowest, and most vulnerable. 2- that the only way to be great in the kingdom of God is to humbly receive it, like a child.
But that’s only part of what Jesus is communicating to His disciples as He embraces this child. The biggest point Jesus is making is about imitating Him and caring for those who are vulnerable and at risk, the very least among them. That’s the point Jesus was making in His second prediction of His death and resurrection—Jesus has come to seek and save the lost; a point Jesus makes plainly in Mark 10.45 which is the key verse in Mark’s Gospel.
This incredible care for others, especially for children, is something that Christians were known for later on as they would go, and rescue babies abandoned to the elements.
So this passage challenges us in a couple of ways. First, we’re challenged to be humble, like a child, and simply receive all that the Lord has for each of us as we seek to follow Him? Second, as Christians, we’re challenged to imitate Jesus and welcoming even the “least of these.”
Finally, there is a great challenge to the church. What can we do to help and care for the “least of these” in the life of our churches, encouraging and nurturing others to know, love, follow, and serve Jesus and equipping one another to care for others just as Jesus cares for all of us?
We are, all of us after all, His children.
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers!