Mark 9:30-37

They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Today’s reading reminds me of the one about three kids who were arguing about whose dad was the fastest. At lunchtime, the first boy said his dad was the fastest because he was a brick layer and when he dropped a brick from the fifth floor, he could run to the ground level and be there before the brick hit. “Not bad,” said the second boy, “but my dad is faster. He is a professional archer. When he shoots an arrow at the bullseye, he can reach it before the arrow does.” “That’s pretty fast,” said the third boy, “but not as fast as my old man. My dad works for the government as a public servant. When he finishes work at 5:00 p.m., he can get home by 2:30 p.m.”

Now I don’t quite get that one myself! I think it’s kind of poking fun at the absurdity of government workers, that their work is so convoluted that it somehow bends the laws of nature. Maybe their work is so mind-numbingly boring that it’s fun to imagine they have the superpower of warping time. I like to think that one is actually revealing the special uniqueness of public service. A life of service has its own special powers like the ability to bend time. Having experienced a brief time working for the government when I served in the military, I have an idea of the absurdity of the duties asked of you in such a job. I know the long stretches of time when you’re simply watching the minutes click by on the clock. You wish you could somehow go back in time and regain the lost time doing such absurd tasks! Government work is certainly not for everyone!

A life of service is certainly not for everyone. It does have its own rhythm to it, its own rewards, its own superpowers. And they don’t make a lot of sense either. Kind of like Jesus’ statement in today’s reading, “whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” What an absurd statement to make! How is it possible that the last can be first? How is it that the greatest are the servants? Those statements go against all linear reasoning. The last is the furthest away from the first. The greatest are the ones being served, not the serving ones. What the heck, Jesus?! You’re teaching goes against sound logic! Or does it?

Like I said, a life of service has it owns rhythm, its own rewards, its own superpowers. When we serve each other, we ought not expect personal gain in the form of wealth or fame or power. No, the rewards of service are far more subtle and nuanced. It’s knowing you brought joy to someone or eased someone’s suffering. It’s knowing you did what’s good and right for someone else just for the sake of doing it. It’s knowing that you may or may not receive anything in return for what you did and being completely okay with that. You helped someone else and the joy you felt in doing that is the only reward you get. Thus is a life of service, of acting selflessly instead of selfishly.  And believe it or not, there are a whole host of superpowers that come from a life of service. You’re no longer expectant of others or critical of others or dissatisfied by others. You’re no longer dependent on others, demanding of others, unforgiving of others. You’re no longer disconnected from others, disillusioned of others, displeased of others. Friends, when we serve others instead of ourselves, a whole new world is opened to us! A world in which the last ARE the first, the servants ARE the greatest! A world in which our Lord is sovereign!

The three boys in that opening joke were arguing over something just as silly and inconsequential as the disciples in our reading. Who really cares whose dad is the fastest?! Who really cares who’s the greatest?! We’re missing sight of what really matters, on focusing on a life of service to each other. Does this mean we ought not be competitive with each other? Not necessarily. We should run the race set before us to the best of our ability while also encouraging and supporting those around us to do likewise. If that inadvertently makes us competitors, then so be it. We should each be running our races to the best of our abilities. God gave each of us this gift of life and He expects each of us to use his gift to bring him the glory. In his world, the humble and upright and loving are the greatest!

So as we head into another season of Lent, let us go knowing that we don’t know everything and that’s ok. Let us go with open hearts and minds for whatever it is Jesus wants to teach us this season. Let us go encouraging and supporting each other. And let us give thanks for the wisdom and opportunities that await us! Thanks be to God!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.