Reading Mark 9:33-37.
At the store with the kids
Jesus and the disciples are walking, as usual. (It feels a bit like that first Hobbit movie: walking with beautiful scenery, bit of action, walking with talking, more walking, freaky monsters to overcome, walking again, etc.) This time, their destination is Capernaum, Peter and Andrew’s hometown. On the way, the disciples get into a hushed but heated discussion—one that they don’t necessarily want Jesus to hear.
“Just wait ‘til we get home!”
Nevertheless, the moment they walk through the door of that house in Capernaum, before they even sit down, Jesus turns his piercing eyes toward them and asks the question they least want to answer: “What were you arguing about on the road?”
Silence. The disciples look at each other, shrug their shoulders, look at Jesus, and adopt their most innocent “Who me?” faces. (Yeah, you and I both know what that’s like.) No one answers. Not even Peter, if you can believe it. You see, they knew Jesus well enough by now that they could guess what topics would displease him, and this one—about seniority and position—would certainly be on the disapproved list. (In the disciples defense, all that “last shall be first” stuff hadn’t been said yet.) It’s obvious that Jesus knows the answer to His question and that He just wants them to confess. Still, they hesitate.
Time for the lecture
Here’s where it really gets interesting, and where we can extract a fantastic parenting application.
Rather than wagging his index finger in front of their noses and commencing Lecture #47 on Servant Leadership, Jesus looks for a comfy chair. Having taken a moment to breathe, He calmly makes a simple statement of truth (v. 35):
Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.
Obviously, it’s easy to remember. Most of us learned it back when we were kids. Jesus, being so very wise, stops there. I don’t know about you, but I always feel the need to elaborate or at least repeat myself a couple of times to be sure I was heard . . . like maybe I have to say it once for each ear of each child in attendance. Sometimes I even repeat, “Do you understand?”
But Jesus just looks around for a tangible example. Let’s see, there’s a door . . . no, some dusty sandals . . . no, the sunlight through the window . . . nice but no. Oh, here we go: a few children (maybe Peter’s kids) are leaning on the wall over there, watching wide-eyed, trying to remain unnoticed. Jesus calls one of them over. Taking his (or her) hand, he pulls the child into the circle. That must have been a little frightening because then Jesus wraps His arms around the child in a comforting hug. Thus this anonymous child becomes the unforgettable object lesson. Without saying “no” or “you’re wrong,” Jesus challenges their thinking—even their worldview. (It would be interesting to dig into what He said and what it meant, but that’s not the point here. Maybe some other time . . .)
A Better Way
I think you get my point, but let me say it plainly just in case. The Proverbs (15:1) say, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” If we can control our own tempers . . . if we can seek our children’s good rather than our own justification . . . if we sincerely want them to learn and change at the heart level, we will follow Jesus’ example. Here’s the step-by-step:
Pose the issue, preferably with a question.
I’ve heard it said that we all answer with our hearts first, and that answer is always honest, regardless of what we say.
Proffer a simple, memorable statement of truth.
Bible verses work well here, but don’t use the Bible as an instrument of punishment. (I’ve written more about that *here*.)
Present an object lesson to reinforce your point.
Just look around, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in the moment. I know of no other advance preparation that will work here.
After you make your point, let it rest there. Let them change the subject if they want to. That’s what happened to Jesus. In the next verse (Mark 9:38), John tries to divert Jesus’ attention.
Place the ‘object’ in a prominent position.
While Jesus allows the change of topic, it’s clear that these ideas of children and of servant leadership are still on His mind at least through the end of the next chapter. Place your ‘object’ from the object lesson somewhere visible, where your children will pass it several times a day. They’ll get the message.