Mark 9:30-37 – Discipleship: A Game of Two Halves

As we enter into the climax of the footy season, we are drawn toward those ridiculous football phrases that are heard in commentaries from time to time.

As one commentator, leading up to a game of that football, which was previously called soccer, said, “If no one scores it will be a nil all draw.”

Another curious comment shared by soccer and rugby league commentators is, “Football is a game of two halves.”  By general extrapolation, Aussie Rules is a game of four quarters, but it doesn’t have the same ring of ridiculousness about it.

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, it has been argued that the gospel according to Mark, is a gospel of two halves.  The first half of the gospel is concerned with the introduction of the person of Jesus, and the question, “Who is this?”  The second half of the gospel is concerned with the response to that question, particular the nature of being a disciple, discipleship.

The break between the two halves seems to come at 27-30 mark of chapter 8, with Peter’s confession of Christ in response to Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?”  Clearly Peter was able to respond with the correct words, but he was unable to understand what this meant.

If we accept Jesus as the Christ, our response is to become a disciple and the passage of Mark, today, speaks about two aspects of those who are disciples of Jesus:  as learners and believers.

Jesus was taking his disciples on a journey of discovery, setting aside his time and space to teach his disciples.  You, like me, may have been brought up in Sunday understanding that a disciple of Jesus was a follower of Jesus.  But it is clear that Jesus was teaching his disciples, his disciples were learners.

In the story of Zacchaeus, because of Zacchaeus little knowledge of Jesus, he desired to see Jesus, and this led to him climbing the sycamore-fig tree.  Beginning with little faith, he entered into the realm of discipleship to grow in his knowledge and the consequent transformation of his life.

Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ led to Jesus teaching them ‘that the Son of man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.’ (8:31)  Peter’s response was to rebuke Jesus for such an idea.  When Jesus came down the mountain following his transfiguration, this teaching was repeated. (9:12)  It is a little understandable that when Jesus again says, ‘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.’ (9:31) they were a little afraid to ask him what he was saying, because they still did not understand.

Those who are disciples of Jesus are those who are continuing to learn about who Jesus is and learn from Jesus.  This learning is a lifelong journey, because sometimes we find it difficult to understand what we are being taught.  As disciples, Jesus is the master and we are the students.

As they continue on their journey, Jesus becomes aware that there is a dialogue going on between his disciples.  When Jesus has the opportunity to ask them what they were talking about, they were silent, because they had been talking about who was more important.  Clearly they were conscious that this was a sticky subject.

I would have loved to be a fly on the wall of this conversation, not, better, I would have loved to be a apart of the conversation.  We are given no indication of the of the things that that the disciples were considering as the yardstick of greatness.  Remarkably, as we often interpret this event, Jesus does not rebuke the disciples for having this conversation amongst themselves.  On the contrary, Jesus seems to take this opportunity to teach his disciples, and put his two pennies worth in.  Here is the bench mark, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’  (9:35)

To reinforce his point, he takes one of the children in the house they are in, and places the child among them; then embracing the child, he says ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’ (9:37)

The child is symbolic of Jesus himself, to welcome the child is to welcome Jesus, to welcome Jesus is to welcome the Father who sent him.  This symbol of children is again repeated in chapter 10, but it is not concerned with an imperative to do children’s ministry.  It is concerned with being a disciple.

A disciple of Jesus is one who displays the trust of a child.  A child places its trust in its parents to provide for them, to care for them, to nurture them, to want only for their good.

The words believe and faith are words whose origins are in trust.  Both believing and faith mean to trust.  To believe in Jesus, to have faith in God, is not a statement concerned with knowing about, or even acknowledging existence, but to place your trust in them.

To be a disciple is to be one who believes in Jesus.  What we believe will effect our actions and behaviour and, likewise, how we act and behave will indicate what we believe.  If we believe that God can heal miraculously, we will desire to make opportunity and pray for those who are in need of healing.  If we believe that God is calling us to do something, we will invest ourselves, suffer the cost, in order to enable that to happen.

I come out of a science background.  For me faith is not blind.  I do not hold to the idea that faith is to believe in something that cannot be explained or experienced.  What we trust in is informed by our experience of it, and it is trustworthy.  It is necessary, then, that we need to provide ourselves in situations where we have the opportunity to learn to believe and grow in our faith.

I suspect that most of the members of St Stephens have been a part of the life of this congregation most of their lives and would consider that they have always been people who believe in God, that there was no time when they made a conscious decision to be a Christian, a disciple of Jesus.  This may mean that you have little, or no, experience of someone coming to a faith commitment or understanding of the need to make a commitment.  Consequently, we find it difficult to imagine and provide opportunities for that to happen.

We are now living in a world where people have little or no experience and knowledge of the things of faith in Jesus Christ or even the tradition and experience of the Church.

Two aspects of being a disciple of Jesus: to be a learner from Jesus and to place trust in Jesus.  We must be choosing to implement and become involved in activities and ministries which are helping us to grow in our discipleship and enabling others to become disciples of Jesus.  We must be participating in things which can help us to grow in our knowledge and belief in God as we experience him at work amongst and through us.

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