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Tony's Reflection 77
Sorry – I have published this in the wrong order. This one should have come before last week’s!
If you have any interest in tennis, or just in sport, you can’t have failed to have noticed the startling success of Emma Raducanu lately. I decided to look up her training regime, to find out how she gets so strong and fast. I couldn’t believe what I found first time round so I checked it out and found the same story on multiple websites, so I guess it must be true. She’s only 5’8”. But her fitness regime includes a weights exercise where she sits down, with her back against the bench and a 200 kg (that’s over 30 stone) weight across her waist. Then she moves upward from the hips, lifting that weight. Especially for someone as dainty as she is, that must take huge determination!
She’s been doing that sort of gruelling regime for at least three years. And it has paid off, with strength and speed. Emma Raducanu has a huge drive to be great and she is reaping the rewards. Deservedly so.
Last week we saw Jesus sitting down calling his disciples to him, for a big lesson. A lesson in what it takes to be great.
Jesus’ disciples are determined to be great, but they’re doing it entirely the wrong way. They think that being great for God, is just like being great in the world. You elbow others out the way and push yourself forward. They have a lot to learn…
Notice how Jesus starts the lesson. “If you want to be great in the kingdom of God…” he says. You see, there is nothing wrong in having a determination to be great, just like our latest tennis star. In fact, Jesus actually encourages us to set our hearts on being great. But it’s important for us to be determined to be great the Jesus way. Jesus gives them three detailed lessons about how to do that.
Let’s sit with them, before Jesus and hear the same lessons (
) … they are so big and challenging, we will take a couple of reflections to ponder them. There are three lessons in all. Let’s hear the first two…
The first one is about being pleased over the success of other Christians.
It’s easy to smile and be good-natured about it, if someone else is successful at something I am already good at. Especially if (in my view at least) he’s not as good as me.
But what if he’s succeeding at something I know I should be getting right, but I fail ignominiously at? If I congratulate him at all, it will probably be through gritted teeth. That’s exactly what had happened to the disciples.
Remember how they had failed to get rid of a demon in a little boy (Mark 9:14-29)? Not only had their best efforts been unsuccessful, but Jesus said it was because they weren’t prayerful enough. Ouch! That must have hurt …
They then saw someone else quite happily dealing with demons, in Jesus’ name - doing successfully what they had failed miserably at.
It was too much for them to bear. Hurt pride and party spirit had taken over. How dare he be doing this, when he is not even one of them? They told him to stop, in no uncertain terms.
Jesus takes them to task… Anyone doing things in his name is on the same side. They should be pleased for his success!
Are we just as pleased, when Christians outside our own little circle enjoy success, especially if it is in an area where we are struggling?
The second big lesson is all to do with children and their faith.
Remember how Jesus had told them earlier, that being great in God’s way, means putting yourself down low?
Back in Jesus’ day, you couldn’t get much “lower” than looking after children. They were seen as inconvenient little nuisances, needing to be knocked into shape. The sooner they grew up the better.
What Jesus says next, takes their breath away. When they “welcome a little child in his name”, they are welcoming Jesus himself. Not just Jesus, but his Father who sent him.
If they were ever grumpy, tetchy, or short with little children – it was as bad as being that way to Jesus himself.
What he wanted was not just for them to be “child friendly” but to be that way “in his name”. To go out of their way to be warm and kind towards little children, as a way of reflecting the tenderness Jesus himself feels towards them. To be that way, because they knew it would please Jesus.
“Just how serious do you want us to be about kids, Jesus?” we hear them asking.
Jesus spells out just how serious it is to “get it right” with little people.
“If your attitude puts them off me,” says Jesus, “that’s a big deal. A very big deal. It would be better to have a millstone put around your neck and be chucked in a lake, than to put one of these little ones off their faith.”
The Twelve swallow hard and feel slightly uncomfortable. They are imagining millstones. Big, round stones, with a head size hole in the middle. You wouldn’t last long thrown into a lake with your head stuck through one of those. They always knew Jesus had a soft spot for children … but a fate like that, all for putting one of them off faith? They had better try hard to encourage faith in any children they come across!
Being great is never easy, though. Being great God’s way, certainly isn’t.