The Pumpkin that the Peanuts character Linus waited for one sad Halloween night and an Ancient Macedonian conqueror named Alex both had something in common with Mohamed Ali. Know what it is?
They had the title great bestowed on them. As the 2016 Republican campaign slogan testifies to, the human race seems to have a fascination with “greatness”. The question is, how do we define greatness.
Our text this Sunday will be considering that subject as it’s overall theme. We’ll be reading Mark 9:30-50.
As the section begins, Jesus predicts his death at the hands of his enemies. The disciples didn’t get it…I don’t think we would have either. How does the description of Jesus’ fate contradict our general notions of how we achieve greatness?
An argument ensues among the disciples about who exactly will be the greatest among their ranks. Jesus first makes a statement that sounds like the old guy from Karate Kid – “to be first you must be last and serve everyone”. How do you understand Jesus’ description of greatness? He goes on to use a child as an illustration of his point. Why a child, do you suppose? Children did not carry any influence in the ancient world, so what do you imagine Jesus’ purpose in identifying himself with the stature of a child (v37)?
John complains about someone doing miracles in Jesus’ name without officially belonging to their group. What might have been some of John’s motives for this? How would you reword Jesus’ statement of correction in v40.
The final section of this chapter has some troubling words. We need to keep in mind the context, that of how we carry ourselves and how we treat others when it comes to identifying the “sin” Jesus warns about. Jesus employs hyperbole by talking about millstone necklaces and cutting off limbs to emphasize just how important this subject is. He mentions hands, feet and eyes. What might those be symbolic of as it concerns how we live?
The word Jesus uses for divine judgement (hell) is Gehenna. Jesus is the only one who ever uses this image. Gehenna was a valley outside of Jerusalem deeply associated with some of Israel’s worst apostasy, where children were sacrificed to pagan gods. In may have become a garbage dump by Jesus’ day. Rabbinical tradition began to associate Gehenna with final judgement. Jesus does a curious thing of tying this imagery with Isa 66:24 which is typically interpreted as a warning about Israel’s destruction for apostasy. Given the theme of greatness and it’s application to relationships, service and acceptance, what might be a possible application of Jesus’ warning?
This will be a thought provoking section of Scripture – hope you can make it on Sunday!