Servant of all. 9:30-37


In our passage for study, Mark records Jesus' second prediction of his passion, and in typical fashion, ties it to the issue of discipleship. Mark's subject is "true greatness."

The passage

v30. Mark now records Jesus' journey toward Jerusalem. Jesus and his disciples move through Galilee and Perea, but this time his ministry is not a public one. He spends the time teaching his disciples.

v31. This passion prediction is different to the first in 8:31. In the first, the Son of Man "must" suffer, be rejected and killed. In this passage, the Son of Man "is" "betrayed" (delivered, handed over). Instead of a necessary suffering and rejection, there is a determined handing over to martyrdom by God, cf. Jer.33:24, Isa.53:6,12. God's deeper purpose is fulfilled in the death of Jesus. As in 8:31, Jesus predicts his resurrection.

v32. The disciples' lack of understanding continues and this because of their little faith. They are left to respond emotionally, too afraid to ask Jesus what he meant.

v33-34. Jesus' question to his disciples is for the purpose of teaching. The disciples are not very forthcoming because on the journey they had discussed the issue of status/rank - "who was the greatest" among them.

v35. Jesus now explains that in the kingdom of God, greatness, in the sense of a high status, or rank, belongs to "the servant of all". In the kingdom, the "last" is assessed as the "first", last in the sense of a servant, a servant like Jesus. As the early church father Polycarp put it, we must walk "according to the truth of the Lord, who was 'the servant of all'".

v36-37. Jesus uses a child to illustrate and apply what he means by being a servant. Jesus himself "welcomes", accepts, receives, all who come to him with the same love he showed toward that little child all those years ago. The service Jesus asks of his disciples is that same willingness to accept those who seek God's mercy in Christ. When we embrace a forgiven sinner, we embrace Jesus, we embrace God.

True greatness

Following the death of Diana, princess of Wales, Kate Legge in the Australian newspaper made this comparison between Diana and Mother Teresa. "One was young and beautiful and did good works. The other was old and ugly and did good works. One had a First World eating disorder called bulimia. The other lived in the Third World where people starve to death. One wore designer clothes and once sold her dresses for $7.8 million. The other left behind two saris and a bucket. One made headlines with simple gestures such as touching a person with AIDS. The other lived her life among lepers and the diseased." "In one sense there is no comparison between the two women and yet the expiry of the elderly missionary, as a postscript to the dislocation over Diana's death, seems to taunt our godless worship of glamour and style."

We would be hard pressed to find a clearer present-day illustration of Jesus' teaching on becoming "the servant of all." Slighting Diana's character is both undignified and unnecessary. The comparison between Diana and Mother Teresa is not made to exalt one and debase the other, but rather to expose the human tendency to glory in status, wealth, beauty, position, education, vitality..... As a US magazine editor commented, if she ran a picture of an elderly person on the cover, she could guarantee a drop in sales.

Our acceptance of others is too often driven by the worship of style. Yet, Jesus would have us accept ("welcome") a seeker on the basis of a radically different criteria. A person's relationship to Christ establishes the criteria for acceptance. The servant embraces the sinner who would be righteous in Christ, for in Christ the unlovely are lovely.


1. When we welcome a seeker, a lost brother, we welcome God. If the brother carries the image of God, how does this truth overcome the difficulties we often encounter when confronted by their sin and corruption?

2. Give examples of how human criteria are often applied to status/rank in the church.

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