Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who's the Greatest? (Part 2)

Last week I proposed our reluctance to see others with an uncompromised compassion is because we are all trying to answer a question much more important to us: "Who's the greatest?"  I neglected to point out we also believe we know the answer; it is either a) I am! or b) I need to be be!  Both to our detriment and the detriment of others, this is the real question and real answer we all pose in all our relationships--from those most intimate to us to those most remote to us.

As I have said hundreds of times on this site, God has made restored relationships--first with Him and then consequentially with each other--possible in Christ.  I question if we can fully comprehend what these restored relationships are if we don't see others with an uncompromised compassion.  As long as I see others from the perspective of how they might advance me or hinder me, I am really only interested in the question of who's the greatest, and answering it summarily with a resounding, "I am!"

Jesus who is the source of all wisdom, God incarnate, and therefore the only one who can guide us into and perfectly arbitrate restored relationships, He tells us the greatest is the least of all and the servant of all (Mark 9:35).  Let's read further in this passage from the Gospel account of Mark and learn what Jesus means by this.

And taking a child, Jesus made the child stand in their midst, and after embracing the child Jesus said to them, "Whoever receives a child such as this in My name, receives Me.  And whoever receives Me does not receive Me but the one who sent Me." [Mark 9: 36-37]

Because children were nothing much more than possessions equivalent to slaves in the first century, Jesus' admonition would have been astonishing to those listening--to say the least.  The greatest therefore in the Kingdom of Heaven (i.e., "in My name") is one who refuses to cling to social prejudices, but who treats every person, either those who can repay or those who cannot, with equal love, which means to promote the other's welfare over his/her own--even if it doesn't advantage the one doing the promoting.  In this way we are truly receiving God because He has loved us the same way.

The disciple, John, says to Jesus, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we forbid him, because he wasn't following us.  Jesus said, "Don't forbid him.  For no one who does a miracle in my name is one who will soon be able to speak evil of Me.  For whoever is not against us, is for us." [Mark 9: 38-40]

A person who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven will not promote or maintain divisions.  From the time we are children until we die, we humans love our cliques, clubs, and Parties.  We seem to find great power through our exclusionism. The most grievous example of this are the walls that we maintain between our own brothers and sisters in Christ (i.e., sectarianism).  But one piece of the great news of the Gospel is God has broken down all the dividing walls of humankind in Christ.  His kingdom is open to all without distinction who surrender themselves completely in faith to Jesus the Christ.

"For whoever gives to you  a cup of water to drink in (My) name because you are of Christ, truly I tell you, that one will absolutely not lose his/her reward." [Mark 9:41]

The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are those who maintain right relationships in even the simplest ways.  I see in this simple parable of Jesus a role reversal in order to communicate a universal principle.  Jesus did this with the parable of the Good Samaritan to communicate we are all neighbors and therefore we must treat all as we would like to be treated.  In a similar vein, we need to treat our brothers and sisters in God's kingdom as if the entire kingdom rides on even the slightest gesture of kindness; because--guess what?-- it does.  A mitigated love ceases to be love God is trying to create in us, but quickly reverts to self-interest.

"And whoever might cause one of these little ones who are believing in Me to stumble (sin), it is better for him/her if a mule-driven-mill-stone is placed around his/her throat instead, and has been cast into the sea." [Mark 9: 42]

The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is one who seeks first the benefits and spiritual prosperity of another person for the sake of God and that other person.  It is a sad truth that our neglect, exploitation, or inordinate burdening of another person leaves us owning some of the sin that person might fall into because of this.  The very foundation of the Kingdom of God is relationships, first between us and God, and then with each other.  As Jesus' image of a mill stone around a person's neck illustrates, God takes these relationships very seriously.  When we advantage ourselves at the expense of another person, it is as if we tear the very fabric of God's kingdom.

"If your hand might cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better to enter into life maimed, than to depart, having both hands, into Gehenna--into unquenchable fire.  And if your foot might cause you to sin, cut it off; it is better to enter into life lame, than, having two feet, to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out; it is better to enter into the Kingdom of God one-eyed, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into Gehenna, where their worm doesn't die and the fire isn't extinguished." [Mark 9:43-48]

The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the one who purifies him/herself.  If our leg is gangrenous, we have the doctor cut it off because we would rather live lame, than to die whole.  At its most basic level Jesus is telling us the one who is least of all and the servant of all loves him/herself by eliminating everything and anything from his or her life--whether good or bad--that might cause him or her to sin, which is to disobey God. The illustration Jesus employs here of a hand, foot, and eye speaks to the extreme by which we strive to purify ourselves--not a literal injunction.

I see also by Jesus' choice of body parts an intended completeness of purification.  It is all too easy to cherry-pick those parts of our life we think God wants us to purify, and then ignore all the rest.  We might then purify the part we have identified with the intensity basic to Jesus' parable (above), but still miss the comprehensiveness also intended with the parable.  What do you think?  I suggest the hand, foot, and eye are types for the purpose, motives, and thoughts of a person.  These three things capture the whole person; they are therefore interrelated, and so must all be subjected to Christ.  For, indeed, to purify ourselves is to completely surrender ourselves in faith to Christ.