Tag Archives: the first shall be last

The Wisdom of the Cross

You show us a child, Jesus,
to show us how to live;
save us from our false ambitions and desires,
that we may receive the pure heart
which comes with true wisdom;
this we ask in your name. Amen.

Mark 9.30–37


The real surprise inherent to the narrative itself comes when Jesus takes a small child and tells the disciples that in receiving such a one they receive him—and through him they receive ‘the one who sent me’ (presumably, following the rule of faith, the Father). Given our domestication of Jesus, however, this often comes across to our congregation as another ‘cute’ story about Jesus and little children. — Nathan G Jennings, in Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol.4, Kindle ed’n, loc.3507


Sometimes, a novel just has an absolute corker of a first line that makes you want to read more. One of the most famous first lines comes from Jane Austen in Pride and Prejudice:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. — Jane Austen (1813)

Or this, from Neuromancer by William Gibson:

The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel. — (1984)

I can see that colour! 

And what about

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. — C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952), one of the Narnia stories

There’s another first line which I love. It is very helpful to remember it when we read the scriptures:

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

That’s the first line of L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between, published in 1953. 

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’

Let’s keep that in mind as we turn to today’s Gospel story. In it, Jesus teaches the disciples that he is going to undergo something unimaginable: 

The Son of Man is now to be handed over into the power of men, and they will kill him; and three days after being killed he will rise again.

‘But,’ Mark says, ‘they did not understand what he said, and were afraid to ask.’

Even worse,

on the way they had been discussing which of them was the greatest.

Can you imagine? Jesus is telling them about his death; all the disciples can think about was which one of them was the best.

In the Gospel of Mark, the disciples really just don’t get it. And how can they? Jesus is turning everything they know upside down.

Look, he’s doing it again! Now, he says to the disciples

If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.

Hang on, Jesus! The first is the one who wins the race, the one who becomes prime minister, the richest one, the one with the best car and the latest computer system. How can the last be first? How can a servant be number one?

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Not/Seeing God’s salvation (Christmas 1B, 28 December 2014)

Luke 2.22–40

Good morning all, and welcome to the Temple. You look like rich travellers with those…er, interesting erm, clothes…and those, what do you call them—iPads?

Forgive me for being rude. My name is Phinehas, and I’ll be your guide today. I’m a Sadducee here in the Temple of Jerusalem. You’ve heard of us Sadducees? Oh…you haven’t? I’m amazed! Your minister can’t have been doing a very good job then, that’s all I can say. You can tell him I said that!

Well, I have a lot of important jobs here at the Temple, I won’t bore you with what they are, but I always have time for rich travellers. The Temple’s coffers are very low in these unfortunate days, so low we’re thinking of introducing a seven shekel copayment for people who need prayer. So if you wanted to give a copayment, or even a large donation, I’d make sure it went to a good home…

No, you don’t like that idea? Ok…so what can I show you? The Temple is such a grand place, it covers over fourteen hectares! You can’t see it all in one day, you’d need a whole week to do it justice.

Now, if you’ll just follow me… Sorry, what’s that?  You want to know who those scruffy two old people over by the gate are? What a strange question. But it’s interesting you should ask…

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