They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, because on the way they had been arguing with one another about who was the greatest. Sitting down, he called the Twelve and said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” He took a child, had him stand among them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one little child such as this in my name welcomes me. And whoever welcomes me does not welcome me, but him who sent me” (Mark 9:33-37).
It’s a penetrating and direct question from Jesus, isn’t it? Surely they were caught at least a little off guard – after all, we don’t have any indication that Jesus heard them on the way. But He knew. He knew too well. And they were surprised into silence both at His knowledge, and at their own embarrassment of His knowledge.
Jesus had no need to rehash their conversation to them; instead, He launched into a teaching moment that told them all they needed to know. While they were on the way, they were jockeying for position. Trying to prove a point. Justifying their own importance. Focusing on themselves – their opinions, their preferences, their rights. And in a few words, Jesus let them know very quickly that such conversations are not in the nature of His kingdom.
“If anyone wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.”
And what a word it is. What a word it is for us today, for we all, the followers of Jesus, are all having conversations along the way. We are all still arguing about a variety of issues, and at the heart of them all, we might do well with an introspective question of what’s really at the core. Beyond the masks, beyond the election, beyond the virus and all the other issues, how much of that conversation is rooted in the same focus – our opinions. Our preferences. Our rights. And into that conversation Jesus steps again:
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
Like those disciples, we are still on the way, and we are still arguing in many cases about that which does not relate to the true nature of the kingdom. And if that is so, then surely we also need a redirection from Jesus. We need a new posture as we continue to go forward together, lest we make the mistake of thinking that “on the way” is actually “where we are going.”
Jesus was going to Capernaum, but ultimately, He was going to the cross. Everywhere in between was just “on the way.” And Jesus was not content for these “on the way” conversations to divert either His or His disciples focus from the true destination.
So may it be with us, for we are still on the way. On the way to a new heaven and a new earth. On the way to know as we are fully known. On the way to when what is already true becomes visible. On the way to when Jesus is not just seated at the right hand of God, but completely acknowledged as the Lord of all. Help us not to be distracted along the way.