Jesus is eight verses into a lesson about a different kind of greatness. The Empires of the world define greatness according to one’s achievements, status, and wealth – or by a close association with those who claim these things.
But the Messiah has come to reveal greatness on totally different terms. The Kingdom of Heaven defines greatness as compassionate presence among the little and the least, a power that comes from having nothing to lose because all is gained in God, and a close association with the little and the least.
During the lesson, the crowd is shushing a child and pushing the child to the back of the crowd. Because kids should be seen and not heard. They can be a real nuisance, their vulnerability high-maintenance, a distraction from what actually matters.
But Jesus tells them to stop pushing the child away, to let the child come all the way forward, to be blessed and seen and heard and held at the center of it all.
This IS what matters, you guys. This is why I’m here – to pull the vulnerable, beloved ones you are missing into the very midst of what we are doing so that what we are doing changes.
The disciples might have tuned out a while ago because John suddenly interrupts and it’s way off topic:
Teacher, we saw some people doing healing work in your name and we tried to get them to stop because they’re not with us. They’re not one of us. And, since we didn’t know what to do with them, they seemed threatening.
Now, remember that Jesus is probably still holding that child. And Jesus amplifies the urgency and hyperbole in his messaging to bring the crowd back to what he was saying before John interrupted him.
As I was saying, John, we’re not drafting teams here. We are not further dividing an already divided world. I did not come to recruit people to tattle or get lost in the details. I came to show you how to gather, unite, trust, and build something together that can reveal a totally different kind of power. One that does not get carried away or distracted or divided, but functions in service to these – the little, the lost, the last – the ones you are shushing because they might change things and disrupt power.
Like many of you, I was never far from my television and radio on Thursday. Our whole nation anticipated the hearings about Dr. Ford’s allegations against Brett Kavanaugh with layers of motivation:
- The political posturing by the committee
- The self-righteous monologues from Senators on both sides
- The he-said, she-said theater of it all
- The semblance of a truth that might be revealed in plain sight
Most of us tuned in to channels where commentators would affirm our own perspectives. Most of us tuned in ready to dig in our heels, prepared to hear what we wanted to hear, already firmly planted in one camp or another.
Most of us, even in the midst of heartbreaking testimonies, were like the disciple John:
That’s where earthly Empires lure our focus: buying and selling slices of what’s true, perpetually anxious in a state of fight or flight, we snarl for scraps and call 51% a victorious win, we settle for a shadow of justice that lacks all kinds of dignity, truth, and connection.
Meanwhile, Jesus is still holding that child.
Jesus is still mid-lesson about what it means to follow the Messiah. Jesus is still pushing through their conversations about human greatness and earthly power to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven:
When you welcome and hold and value the one who suffers, the one whose voice does not yet matter, you do so for God.
When one from the margins is brought to the center, not for placation or show, but for the sake of transforming the whole assembly, God is there.
When the ones who hold power hold it lightly, willing to be challenged and changed by what they still have to learn, God’s Kingdom is revealed.
Jesus is not impressed with John’s interruption, this concern about limiting the logistics and company of healing and love. Jesus’ mission is political because it’s for the people because it is resistance to the Empires, but that’s not the same thing as partisan. Jesus has not come down from heaven to affirm the powerful or to open a fancy country club.
The Messiah is not here to distract, threaten, blame, divide or decide on behalf of earthly systems and human insecurity.
And so Jesus’ tone changes as he pulls the crowd firmly back to the lesson at hand: the Messiah is here to gather and unite, to infect the world with compassion and empathy, to teach people how to suffer together for love and justice, to make a way where there was no way, to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven – not on the muffled margins, but at the very center of the crowd, at the heart of the conversation, at the very core of creation.
Jesus is still holding that child and it’s starting to make everyone uncomfortable. He holds the child as a sign of incarnate love, a symbol of all the places we cannot hold our gaze, all the people we explain away, all the systems we allow to remain unjust, all the reasons we would rather interrupt and tattle about something else instead.
Did you see Jesus this week? Did you see Jesus holding something or someone, in the flesh, front and center, demanding that you take notice instead of distracting and dividing?
- Did you feel something when Dr. Ford told her story?
- Did you pray for the Kavanaugh family?
- Did you hold your breath while Ana Maria Archila and Jeff Flake stood in an open elevator, fearing and braving connection against all odds?
- Did you notice yourself distracted and divided, blaming and shaming, wishing away the rumble that happens when Jesus is holding what matters in our midst, causing everything in and around us to change?
This is the fantastic danger of the incarnation. Jesus is still holding the little, the lost, the least in the midst of all of us:
Alongside sexual assault survivors who had wounds ripped open again this week.
Next to men and boys with secrets, worried what might be said against them one day, wondering if a belated apology would do any good.
In the midst of people defending power and people pushing against it.
In the midst of folks who want this to be over because they don’t understand and those who are getting curious for the first time.
This scripture is filled with hyperbole about cutting off and letting go that which is not good for the Kingdom of Heaven. They are dangerous words for those who do self-harm, those who harbor deep shame, those who are uncertain of their value to God and neighbor.
But they are courage for those of us who need to let go, who need to listen more, who need to be drawn into the gospel work of gathering and uniting instead of tattling, distracting and dividing.
So what can you burn today? What is too heavy to carry in this season of life? What can fall off and return to the earth so that you are lighter and free and open, more able and willing to be moved by the rumble beneath our feet, for Jesus is at the center of this change, moving greatness while still holding that child, dead serious about calling us back to the suffering and love we are meant to carry together.