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Mark 9:30-37

The Rev. Jon Roberts

19 September


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he would not have any one know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of man will 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 they were afraid to ask him. 33 And they came to Caper′na-um; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” 34 But they were silent; for on the way they had discussed with one another who was the greatest. 35 And he sat down and called the twelve; and he said to them, “If any one 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.”


Jesus in the mirror by Unknown artist

Solve this riddle. “You can touch me, but I can’t touch you back. You can see me, but I only reflect you and can never reject you. What am I?

A mirror

The key word in this riddle is the word “reflect” as we realize there are few things that may reflect something. Water, if it’s still enough, can also reflect. When you look at your life, how you developed since you were very little, how much of your life is a reflection of your childhood. Psychologists will ask you a lot about your childhood. If you go see one about a problem you might be facing, you can expect questions such as, “Tell me about your relationship with your mother, or father.” A common refrain is, “I don’t want to waste my time digging into my past.” But in many ways, our adult lives are both enriched and limited by our childhood experiences and perceptions. The warmth of a mother’s love determines if you will have a kind heart when you get older. The pain caused by a cold and unsympathetic parent cloud later intimacies. Abuse contaminates your self-esteem and can contribute to chronic illness.[1] It is a true saying that your past reflects your future. How well can do receive this truth, or does it remain a riddle?

In the proverbial sense, the reading from the Old Testament treasures the importance of good parenting, seen within a good wife.[2] The point the author makes is the importance of her behavior, expressed in ways that makes someone like her hard to find. She knows the heart of her husband and there is great trust, where she would cause him no harm. She gets up early in the morning and prepares, provides. She produces and she plants. She is resourceful and prioritizes her household, managing it with great care and duty. Of course, later in the passage, we see she is more than a good wife as it says, “Her children rise up and call her happy.” She is praised by all. It is this type of behavior, we as parents, are to model for our children so that they have something worthwhile and edifying to reflect upon, to touch and to see.

From a good wife, to a good life, James, the disciple of the Lord says our works are to be done with gentleness and born of wisdom.[3] When we reflect upon this behavior and model it, we are drawing near to God and God is drawing near to us. We may wonder about those disciples in the Gospel account where Jesus calls them around, inside this house in Capernaum. He looks at them with kindness and gentleness and knows their childhood experiences. They were lower class citizens, fishermen mainly, a tax collector and so on. Maybe Jesus showed them something to which they desired in his behavior. Some of them may not have had a warm and compassionate mother. They may have had parents who were cold and unsympathetic or worse, abusive. As they follow Jesus, they carry this with them. How much of your own life do you reflect upon your own childhood? It is the first five years of your life when you develop your brain and you learn feelings. Another ten years you develop relationships and habits. Based on your early childhood, your present life and future expectations are saturated in the past.

The disciples of Jesus, like us, had unique experiences, both good and bad. It made them who they were and Jesus was going to give them a higher calling; a greater validation deprived of them by their upbringing. The Messiah was before them, working miracles and setting people on fire, spiritually. He was the chosen one, and what were they doing along the road that led to this moment? They were bickering. They actually were fighting over who would be the greatest of them all, when the day came for God’s kingdom to be established in the new world order. Is it me? No, Lord, is it I? What about me Jesus? That is like me saying to each of you, which pew in this church is greater. Is it yours? What about you in the back? How about over there? Do you remember the story of Snow White and the evil Queen, who was deceived by her own envy and pride? The queen had this mirror, a talking mirror, where she asked it daily, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest [the greatest] of them all?” ‘Who is greatest’ is a question that comes from an adult who has not matured in their true purpose nor have they come to terms with their childhood.

The epistle of James continues along these lines, reflecting on the competitive nature of humanity. It also takes us away from the image we are supposed to become. He gives warning as well, saying that when we take earthly, unspiritual and devilish paths for selfish ambition, envying what others have, coveting them, we regress. Could you imagine what people become in their adult lives if this is the reflection they see from their youth? If bullying was a model, they could become one when they get older. If jealousy was rampant early on, unchecked, it can become worse as you age. This is why Jesus turned the image upside down, directly asking them, like children, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ He knew they could not move away from the past. They needed a better role model.

There is an illustration of this reflection, of something that can be touched and something that can be seen. It is a painting, by an unknown artist, of a man who has entered into the empty tomb in Jerusalem. There, in front of him he stares at this mirror and it is the reflection of Jesus looking back at him. Jesus appears to be the reflection, but contrary to that way of thinking, we have it all wrong. We are the reflection of him. Jesus dramatizes the understanding by calling forth a child ‘such as this.’[4] This child is gentle, pure, peaceful and uncomplicated. Jesus wants his disciples, he wants you and me, to reflect on our own childhood; to touch it, and to see it as a time that may not have been perfect, it may not have been full of gentleness and peace, and then again, maybe it was. Maybe it was a brief episode, a mixture of acquaintances and experiences that shaped you into the child of God that Jesus sees face to face. As Jesus looks into you, he is looking for the reflection of God. That is what his kingdom will look like. We have it upside down. We think God calls us to this place for our own validation. It is God’s will and pleasure to see his reflection on the mirror of our hearts and the calm waters of our soul. Can you be like this child? If you welcome the child, that is you, accepting it for what it is, designed for goodness, peace and purity, then you welcome the Son. You welcome the Father.

Back to the application of our riddle, and in closing, if we are now the image, the reflection of the risen Lord, Jesus who can touch us, can we touch him back? Jesus sees us, but do we reject him or do we reflect him? It is in drawing near to Jesus where we find wisdom. As we are to dwell in him, and he in us, we become his reflection.

[1] Harvey Schartz, M.D.
[2] Proverbs 31:10-31
[3] James 3:13-4:8
[4] Mark 9:30-37

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