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gospel stories

It's important, when reading the gospels, to realize that the individual stories are not strung together like so many beads taken randomly from the bag of the writer's experience.

In Mark, for example, the first 8 chapters have to do with a coming-of-sight regarding "who" Jesus is. But after Peter's confession (ch 8) and the transfiguration (ch 9), the rest of the gospel turns on "what" Jesus came to do. And it seems --at first-- impossible to see clearly that the glorious Messiah should be betrayed to wicked rulers and give himself over to an unjust trial and cruel death upon the Roman cross.

The disciples must come to grasp not only glory but humility. Just like the two-step miracle in chapter 8 ("I see men as trees walking"... a blurred vision that needs a second touch from the Master for full clarity) so the disciples must learn the character of service in the Kingdom.

So as I was reading in chapter 9 I came across these two events, which at first sight may seem unrelated:

And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 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.” And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us. For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

The disciples are pre-occupied with thoughts of pre-eminence in the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This leads to a discussion, a rather embarrassing discussion, in which Jesus teaches about childlike humility.

But pride (pride in ministry, no less) takes other forms. Comparing and ranking ourselves against one another in God's family is one form. There's another form: looking down upon, or excluding, outsiders who do not belong to our group. But as Jesus said, those who name his name, and see the power of his name for deliverance, will not likely prove to be enemies in the end. In fact, he says, even if someone gives us a glass of water because we are followers of Christ, that person will be rewarded.

So the gospel -- and both of these gospel stories -- teaches us that we cannot compare and rank ourselves with anyone, whether inside or outside of our ministry group. There is no place for pride in the Kingdom, and those who receive the gospel have nothing boast about ... except a wonderful King!


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