In our Jesus story this week (Mark 9:30-37) , we find our guy giving his disciples a very clear lesson in acceptance – one that they sorely need, but, of course, miss. Jesus and his merry band have been traveling through Galilee and into Capernaum where Jesus asks the guys what they were talking about on the road.
Well, what the disciples discovered on that road trip is that even acceptance has a dark side. Now that they felt accepted by Jesus, this man that they loved and would follow through fire, and piddly little backwater towns, they started to argue about who Jesus accepted the most. They argued about who was the greatest among them – who was the most accepted, and therefore the most powerful.
See, we crave acceptance from world, but as civil rights struggles of the past have shown us, once acceptance is granted, then superiority can gain a foothold. Those who have been previously oppressed gain acceptance, then they can become oppressors of others who try to follow behind. Immigrants granted citizenship may rail about the “illegals” or African-Americans may complain that the LGBT community cannot co-opt its movement since the oppression is not exactly the same.
This is the dark side of acceptance – once we attain it, we get to decide who does, or does not, get accepted next. Jesus didn’t have to hear the disciples recount their conversation. He already knew his guys were getting a little bit full of themselves, so he gives them an object lesson – in the form of a child.
“He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.'”
At its core, Jubilants, acceptance is not about what makes me better than you or you better than me. Instead, acceptance is about what makes you, me, and what makes me, you. Whoever wants to be first, must serve, and whoever wants to welcome God into themselves and the world, must see themselves in everyone, even in a little child. Instead of seeing the world as competition – as separate from ourselves where we win acceptance or face rejection – Jesus invites us to see the world as interconnected – by once again connecting with our innocence and wonder that we had as children.
As kids, we don’t know about separation until we are taught it. We see kids of different races, abilities, and genders and we don’t differentiate ourselves from them. They are all just other beings that we love to be with, play with and learn about. It’s only when the adults, who have learned the lesson of “us” versus “them,” tells us that we can’t play with children of different races, or different genders, or those with different abilities, that we begin to see the world as separated from us.
Jesus invites us back into our childlike ways – to view the world as innocent, divine, awe-filled and wonderful. This does not mean that we turn a blind eye to evil, or a deaf ear to suffering, but that we learn how to embrace it all, just as we learn to embrace our own evil and suffering as part of this amazing journey we’ve been given.
Once we can see that there is no separation between ourselves and others, we can fully grasp what Jesus was trying to tell us when he said we must love our neighbor as ourselves.
We must see our neighbors not as separate and in need of our love, but as a continuation of our own very being. My neighbor is in me and I am in my neighbor. When I see you, I see me.
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