Weekly Bible Reflection
Mark's Alternative Economy
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Mark 9. 30-37 "Title"
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
It has been said that ‘the church is not to be a power base for its members but a community that redistributes power to the excluded’*. Share with the others your own experiences of this.
A Window on the Text
This episode takes place following the Transfiguration (9:2-13), and shortly after the incident when those disciples who did not go up the mountain with Jesus had been unable to drive out an evil spirit from a deaf and dumb boy (verses 14-22). Jesus is now moving on from Galilee towards Jerusalem. The disciples are puzzled by their apparent failure, and Jesus is taking the time to talk to them privately about the reality of the next stage of his mission, and how important it is for them to grasp where it was leading. They still don’t understand, and are a confused and bewildered group.
They don’t all seem to be downcast, as they argue about ‘who is the greatest’ – surely a strange thing to be doing, if they had just failed in their purpose. Perhaps it was centred around the three who accompanied Jesus up the mountain – Peter, James and John, the ones who had the special privilege of seeing Elijah and Moses, and hearing the voice of God.
We are told that they had now come to Capernaum. We don’t know whose house they were in. Is it the same one where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law (Mark 1:30-31)? Or, the one that needed roof repairs following the healing of a paralysed man – where Mark says Jesus had “come home” (2:1)? It may well belong to one of them – perhaps Peter or even Jesus himself. So whose child is it that Jesus takes in his arms? Not that of a passing stranger, or someone searching for Jesus to ask a favour of him. It would be a member of the family, maybe even Peter’s own child.
However much this child may have been loved within its own family, in 1st Century Palestine he or she had no status, no rights, no rank and certainly no claim to greatness. So listen to what is Jesus saying. The disciples had themselves been sent out as if they were children (Mark 6.8). No food, no possessions, no money except what was provided for them out of the goodness of other people’s hearts. As vulnerable as children – who, like so many in the world today, have no idea where their next meal is coming from. The disciples have obviously forgotten this early lesson. Jesus is reminding them that if they want to follow him, they must not only expect to be as vulnerable as children, but to be prepared to be treated as such. For whoever welcomes the least and most insignificant member of the community welcomes God.
Responding as a community
- What stories do you have of how, as with the disciples, God still loves us even when we get it wrong time and time again? How can we help each other find ways to learn from our mistakes?
- All groups of people have occasions when there are power struggles, or tensions between them, that need resolving. What is the best way of dealing with these situations?
- Do we see God in children, especially those of other people? Isn’t the point of life to grow up? How do we see childhood – as a time of innocence and fun, or a time of risk and danger? How can we celebrate childhood in church?
- Has our modern Western society gone too far the other way in regarding children as miniature consumers, to be pandered to and provided with more than they can possibly need?
Bring and share prayers from your childhood, or ones you have used with your own children or grandchildren.
Lifting Women’s Voices – Prayers to Change the World is a good resource for prayers about the needs of children, especially in relation to the Millennium Development Goals. For example:
A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping
for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.
(Matthew 2. 18)
as little boys hold guns and go to war.
not in a game where the dead rise again
and go home for sandwiches and cake,
but in a deadly reality where the young are sacrificed
on the altar of adult power and prejudice.
as stick-thin children with swollen tummies and huge eyes,
filled not even with pain
but with the resignation of those without hope, die.
While others throw away
the excess food they cannot stuff into their mouths.
as a child peeps out from behind the sofa,
fearful of heavy blows,
of harsh words tearing her apart.
of the sexual violation which robs her of herself,
well-cared for and loved
preserve their rightful innocence and peace.
Rachel weeps for her children
and we weep with her,
Lord, hear our lamentation.
Hear our prayer.
Gracious God, in your infinite mercy hold suffering children everywhere in your
arms this night and always. Infuse them and their parents with hope, faith, and
trust in your healing presence. In this hour of vulnerability, protect children from
harm and neglect. Inspire governing authorities, scientists and healers to discover
new ways to cure children and to provide the means to prevent illness. Amen.
Rank and status were very important in 1st century Jewish life. The child was not seen as a symbol of innocence or humility, but someone at the bottom of the social scale, without legal status, totally helpless. Authority ran vertically downwards, age and tradition were revered. Normally it was not until early adulthood that a young person began receiving serious consideration as a family member. The word for child and for servant was the same in Aramaic, which is particularly significant for Mark 9 v 35.
- Whoever received an emissary received the sender himself. If one welcomes a child, one welcomes Jesus and therefore welcomes God.
- On most occasions that we meet children in the Gospels they are victims of sickness or oppression, e.g. the synagogue ruler’s daughter; the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter; the deaf and dumb son of the episode just before the disciples leave Galilee. Childhood in antiquity was a time of terror, with high levels of infant mortality. Children have always suffered first from famine, war, disease, dislocation – at this time few would live to adulthood with both of their parents still alive. Survival to adulthood was a cause for celebration, and special rites of passage.
- * the quotation is from Say to this Mountain – Marks’ Story of Discipleship, by Ched Myers and others. Orbis Books 1996.
Mark's Alternative Economy - Discussion