Then His disciples began arguing about which of them was the greatest. But Jesus knew their thoughts, so He brought a little child to His side. Then He said to them, “Anyone who welcomes a little child like this on My behalf welcomes Me, and anyone who welcomes Me also welcomes My Father who sent Me. Whoever is the least among you is the greatest.” John said to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone using Your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he isn’t in our group.” But Jesus said, “Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.”Luke 9:46-50
After all the other negative comments Luke has chosen to gather on the disciples he closes the section with this one: the disciples arguing about who among them was the greatest. How ironic? How soon the Glory of God is forgotten. The glory wasn’t inherent in Moses, nor in Elijah. The glory is always God’s and He won’t share His glory. Why? Because He is jealous and doesn’t want the disciples to get more glory than Him? That is as ridiculous as it is foreign to His nature. He made man to reflect His glory. Man is not meant to have the Glory of God resident within him. That is for God. Man is to reflect God’s glory like the moon reflects the sun, not shine the glory from within himself. Look at Gem 794. It’s ridiculous to think that Jesus should be troubled about any glory man might have. When you compare the intensity of glory between the two it is not contest and never could be. Man falls short of God’s glory when he seeks to take the glory for himself. It seems these disciples just don’t get it. This was the first temptation that satan pulled on man. “You can be like God.” What does man think in that context? The Power, and the Glory. But you can’t bear the glory of God. It would fry you. Even the one who is synonymous with Glory, Moses, is but a mirror to reflect the Glory of God. Do you disciples get it?
No it seems not! The twelve are busy arguing about who is the greatest. There is disagreement on this one among the experts. Some commentators think given the words, Jesus knew their thoughts, that the disciples were merely thinking these things. Well I would say given Luke’s use of “arguing” and Mark’s quote of Jesus words, “what were you discussing?” it is pretty conclusive this was not just in their head. But either way Jesus asks them the question. Imagine their shame and humiliation given the fact that they were debating who was the greatest. I am sure they knew right at the moment what Jesus thought about what they were talking about.
Jesus then takes a small child to His side and therefore in the midst of them. Why take a child? What does the child symbolize? The child was not worth anything in the grand scheme of things. “Children should be seen and not heard” mean anything to you? It was the prevailing sense of that culture and the age. A young child was not considered high on the pecking order at that stage of life and so was worthless in the eyes of the rich and powerful. The child was also the symbol of weakness and lacked protection. In our day and age of women’s rights and the protection of children we can miss the point here. The child in first century Palestine was worthless and unprotected, the least and most insignificant. Jesus is using the child to highlight His perspective and Heaven’s perspective on what constitutes greatness. Whoever is the least of you is the greatest. There it is right there stated clearly – the point of comparison spelled out for us.
Notice too the repetition although it is masked by the use of different words. “On my behalf” is the same as “in Your name”. The literal statement of the first element is “in My name”. In my name welcome, accept and embrace little children if you want to be the greatest. Protect the weak and the fatherless. Pay attention to those who can’t repay you a kindness. Look after the weak and the unprotected. Adopt a servant attitude and you will be great. The way up is the way down.
It is so interesting that at this point John becomes the spokesperson for the group. He is the one who breaks the silence. I am sure there was silence after Jesus called the child and made that statement. Oh no! caught with our pants down again. John one of the sons of Thunder but also John, the disciple that Jesus loved, answers for all of them. [John had a hard side and a soft side]. So what do we do with your statement Jesus? Must we always accept the weak and downtrodden? Isn’t there are limit to this kind of turn the other cheek attitude. There are times when we have to show our tough self too Lord.”
It is like he picks up on Jesus use of “in My name” and uses that to frame what he wants to say next – bridging to the next point. Effectively, “well talk about using Your name, we saw someone doing things in You name that was unacceptable. They were casting out demons in Your name and we told them to stop because they haven’t had the training. We can’t even do it right, so how could they? They are not part of the in group.” They were not part of “the disciples” – those learners in training. What did John mean here? The twelve, the seventy or the wider group we have seen referred to as “the disciples”. Whichever he meant he is referring to people who were not part of that group. “They are not one of us.” Uppermost in his mind at that point must have the been the on the job training they had just received on casting out demons. The father of the demoniac boy had come to them first but they were not up to it. He (the father) then went to Jesus and told Jesus His disciples had failed. One of those failed disciples then tries to suggest:
- “They shouldn’t do it because we got it wrong and they are not even a part of our group. So we told him to stop, didn’t we guys?”
- Right, that is not right.”
- “There are limits to this accept-every-weak-person thing you know Lord. I mean right?”
- “It’s right isn’t it, Right?”
“Don’t stop him! Anyone who is not against you is for you.” John has just heard the words “whoever does a good act “in My name” pleases the Father. But surely there are some things that just shouldn’t ought to be. Isn’t this an example of that Lord? If we couldn’t do it right, then they certainly can’t. So we stopped them. John is doing one of three things here.
- He is either defending their actions on behalf of the group and querying Jesus as to how far you take this meekness/weakness stuff. (His hard side; tough love is to the fore)
- Or he is reconsidering and thinking perhaps they may have been wrong in what they did as a group in stopping that person from casting out demons. (His soft side; sensitivity is to the fore).
- There is a third alternative of course as well. That John was wanting to change the subject and get the focus off their blooper of talking about which of them is the greatest. So he picks up on Jesus “in my name” statement and uses it in the next breath. Almost an “oh-that-reminds-me” kind of comment. But that backfires on him too.
I think this section is immensely funny. Following the transfiguration experience, which must have been a high for those three disciples, of whom John was one, it seems they can do nothing right. It all turned to custard. Luke highlights this feature in the way he has stacked the stories and link them all closely. The flow of the stories moves quickly from one blooper to another. Oops!
Next Gem we will look in detail at Jesus’ reply to John. It is worth looking at further. There is much in these stacked stories that we could focus on but we can’t do it all. I would be here for a long time and we would not get Luke gemmed. Stop and ponder Jesus’ answer for yourself. “He who is not against you is for you.” it’s pregnant with meaning.
If you think being meek is weak then trying being meek for a week.Ian Vail
A strong man stands up for himself. A stronger man stands up for others!Rick Godwin
Don’t judge someone just because they sin differently than you.Anon
GOD deliberately chose the “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretentions of the “somebodies” .Alvi Radjagukguk
People’s pain never changes the truth, but it should influence the way you share it.Rick Warren