Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 19, 2021

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Today we hear James warn against selfish ambition, while the disciples quarrel over which one of them is the greatest. Jesus tells them the way to be great is to serve. Then, to make it concrete, he puts in front of them a flesh-and-blood child. We are called to welcome the children God puts in front of us, to make room for them in daily interaction, and to give them a place of honor in the assembly.




Prayer of the Day

O God, our teacher and guide, you draw us to yourself and welcome us as beloved children. Help us to lay aside all envy and selfish ambition, that we may walk in your ways of wisdom and understanding as servants of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.




In today’s gospel from Mark, the disciples have just witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration atop the high mountain. Riding high on this experience, they are now traveling with him through the countryside, processing what they have seen, contrasting it with the story of crucifixion and death Jesus keeps hinting at. They begin to argue about which of them is the greatest—who will be given the highest honors for hanging out with Jesus? But Jesus stops them in their tracks. It isn’t about the highest honors, or about who shines most brightly: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).


Jesus’ words to the disciples and to us are a reminder that God flips upside-down the way the world judges greatness. As Christians, most of us know this almost instinctively. We talk about avoiding “works righteousness” and rejecting the need to earn our salvation or prove our faith. And yet, even within the “servant of all” framework, we too often compete with one another to be the greatest servant. We hold ourselves up as examples of charity and justice, patting ourselves on the back for our works of service, hoping that the world—and God—will be impressed. Even when we know that this isn’t how God works, we still get sucked into the ways of the world.


But Jesus’ statement to the disciples is not just about them: it is also about himself. It is a reminder that Jesus’ greatness is precisely because on the cross, he has become “last of all and servant of all.” Our own efforts at service and humility will always pale in comparison to the Son of God. To be sure, we are called to love and serve our neighbors; but we are called to trust Jesus, “last of all and servant of all,” for our salvation. This is good news, for now our competitions and attempts to impress are no more. We simply receive from the Lord and pass it along.



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