33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
It is an interesting text with lots of practical implication. The reflection is a little long. If you are interested, read on.
"Jesus was in the house"
We do not know whose house it was. However, we do know that there was an infant (ref. v. 36). If there is an infant then naturally its parents are also in the house. Therefore, the setting is clearly set in a family/community life situation, not on the road.
Jesus did not correct the disciples on the way. In fact, that was not his earlier style (ref. Mk 8: 34, Jesus teaches them on the way). It shows Jesus began to treat his disciples more mature way. Jesus asked them about a quarrel/ argument that took place on the way but he did not talked about it then. When in the house he asked. They did not answer.
He sat down, called the twelve"
Note the style of Jesus' teaching. A crisis took place, discord and disunity erupted but Jesus did not put those inner matters to the public. He rather chose a different approach. He sat down: showing his calmness and control over the situation. He called the twelve. Then the teaching came. "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." Most probably, the disciples did not understand the teaching. So Jesus goes for a demonstration. The next verse indicates that.
"Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,"
This verse shows that Jesus not only taught with parables and narration but also demonstrated the teaching in real life situations.
What did he demonstrate?
We need to look at an earlier text. The call of the first disciples, in Mk 1: 16-20. In the context of catching fish, he called them saying, "follow me I will teach you how to catch people. In an earlier occasion I have posted a blog, "I will teach how to catch people". In which I have said that many of us have learned many things, perhaps too many things but did not learn to catch people. Our basic problem in living together is the result of failure of not knowing how to catch people.
Is it not true? Just reflect upon any of the events in which you have quarrelled, separated, failed, got angry, that could not win them over whether children, spouse, boss, somebody in authority, the list is endless. The underlining reason is that all those situations has something similar, indirectly or directly, there was some tension regarding "who is the greatest."
Jesus demonstrates how to catch people?
Jesus takes an infant. The Greek word used is paidion - means infant. Now use your imagination to rebuild the situation, Jesus is seated, the disciples around him. Jesus takes the infant. (Note that the episode takes place in a house, see verse. 33). What might have been the reaction of the child? It might have cried. Jesus signaled the disciples to handle the child. The just looked at him not knowing what to do. Then Jesus takes the infant. "Note the phrase, "taking it in his arms, he said to them". He said to receive the other like that.
This text had taken many meditations of mine. I used to ask and look at the commentaries to know the significance of this demonstration.
The meaning came to me one day in a parish set up. Those days I had started preaching ministry. I used to gather suitable quotations from the bible to threaten, cajole, or frighten the audience with fires of hell. I seldom smiled during the preaching. Later, I had realized that those retreats were an ordeal to the participants. Many who attended the retreats told me that those were very powerful. They never give you a real feedback, is not.
Once I went for a retreat. On the second day, the parish priest had some other assignment and he told me about a baptism after the morning mass. I agreed to do it. After the baptism, I was standing and chatting with the people. The mother of the infant told me to hold her child. She was a tribal girl may be of seventeen or eighteen. The infant looked so small. I just refused to hold the child citing that it is not the custom. She went on insisting and soon other mothers joined with her. I could not refuse any longer so I agreed to hold the child. The moment I held the infant in my hand, it let off a horrible cry. Though looked small it had very loud noise. I was taken aback. I told the mother with little irritation to take the child back. Instead of taking the child back she just looked at me and laughed saying, you only know to shout in the church, you do not even know how to catch a child. It was a like a sudden blow on the face. The child kept on crying. I began to sweat. The mothers also looked at me with smile. Here I am, the preacher who teaches people to live in harmony and peace does not even know how to hold a child. Seeing my misery the mother of the infant told me, father that is only a little child, be patient.
I tried to be patient, note my expression, I tried. But my patience did not yield any fruit, the child kept on yelling, then the mother told me, father, be gentle, if you become restless the child will cry more. Suddenly the bible passage came to my mind: the demonstration of Jesus. I tried to patient, and gentle. It did not work. My agony was increasing, the mother told me, father, you only command, you have to be loving, talk to it in a nice way.
Since there is no way to escape, I began to look at the child. In fact, I was not looking at it. I just held the child comfortably, tried to be soft in my expressions then with all love I had in my heart I began to talk to the child, slowly touching on its cheeks, gently shaking its stomach. I held the child with utmost care. To my surprise, the infant stopped crying and began to smile.
What a relief! I learned how to catch a person. In the process I also knew how to be a servant.
I was suddenly led to understand the phrase "taking it in his arms he said, welcome others or catch others like this. Be patient, be gentle, and be loving (then you will be the greatest of all).
In fact, there is a child in everyone's inside. All what they ask is a bit more patience, gentleness, and love. And definitely, we will win them over. What do you say?
I was so happy. So I held that baby in my chest. In a moment, it pissed all over my cassock. Giving the child back to the mother, I told, see, this is why, I do not take them, she has pissed all over my cassock. The innocent tribal mother gave a hilarious laughter and gave me a lesson, which I never forget. She said, father the baby is free with you that is why it pissed. If it is tensed, it won't piss.
I never knew that, when others, pissed on me, scolded me, shouted and did much other harm, I thought that they were angry with me. On the contrary, they were free with me that is why they could do that.
Later looking at the cross, I knew its meaning. When others spit on him, mocked and spoke all types of ill against him he could remain calm. He could even say, forgive them they do not know what they do. He became more patience, gentle, and loving even on the cross. He was teaching us how to catch people.
Just reflect on occasions where you felt that you could not catch the other and ended up in separations, hostility, divorce, enmity and continued remain so. There was lack of patience, gentleness and love. Is not?
Jesus never wishes our failure that keeps us in the last. He wants us to be the first, greatest of all. The means are different. It is not arguing, lording over but service. We become servants who are patient, gentle and loving to one another.
Friends, meditate on the demonstration of Jesus, see the gentleness in his eyes, and then apply those principles to your life. To a great extent you will learn to how to catch people.
Rejoinder, after that incident I had changed the way I preach. I brought lots of laughter, gentleness and love into the ministry. After all, every preaching is an art of catching people. Not only preaching but also every sharing, conversation, and interaction are an art of catching people. This art is based on simple principle: be patient, be gentle and be loving.