Mark’s Gospel Chapter 9 verses 33 – 37 & 38 – 41
‘No ego – no problem’, goes the Buddhist saying. There is a problem however: we’ve all got an ego! So how do we deal with it? The teaching and life of Jesus give us lots of clues: for example, in the next few sections of chapter nine as Mark builds up to the climax of his gospel.
All three of the synoptic gospel writers give us stories of Jesus and children. Here in verses 33 to 37 we have the disciples’ egos arguing about who is the greatest. Jesus, his arms around a child, tells them:
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
I don’t know about the place where you live, but here in London UK almost all public statues of men demonstrate their powerful egos. I know of only one place in Europe where you will find a statue of a man being gentle. Pestalozzi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johann_Heinrich_Pestalozzi) stands in the centre of Zurich with his arms around a child – surely a reference to the next words in this story of Mark’s:
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Verse 37)
Our egos like to compare themselves with others. They can easily feel threatened by what they see. Either, they feel better than that other person, or they feel worse. Either way, there’s a problem for the ego. Notice, I keep referring to the ego in the third person. That’s because the good news is that fundamentally we are not our egos. We are all human beings in the image of God. That’s the reality underneath all the shinanakins the ego gets up to.
Verses 38 – 41 reveal the disciples’ egos at work again. They say to Jesus:
“Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
‘Not one of us’, is a favourite ego attitude. Think of all the pain and suffering caused by, ‘not one of us’!! Nothing strengthens the ego more than being right and making other people wrong. Egos are blind. They cannot see through to the deep reality about every human being on the planet. God is the very ground of our being.
The next section (verses 41 – 49) tells us how seriously Jesus wants us to take the problem of the ego. All right, so the language is over the top for modern readers but maybe that was Jesus’ startling way of saying, wake up; pay attention; this really matters.