Picture this scene! Jesus is walking along the road, the disciples following some yards behind. They just heard Jesus talking about his upcoming death and then his amazing 3rd day resurrection. But, the Gospel says, the disciples really don't understand him. So they begin their own discussion, talking in hushed tones as they walk behind Jesus. But their talk is far different. They are talking about which of them is Jesus' best disciple!
Peter declares, “I'm your spokesman. I'm the first to speak out, the first to say what's on my mind. I'm obviously the leader and the most important. But his brother Andrew says, “Peter, you wouldn't even be here if I hadn't told you about Jesus, and I was the very first to follow him when he called.” The youngest disciple, John, says, “I get to sit next to him at the dinner table, and that's the place of great honor in our Jewish tradition.” Matthew states, “Well. I'm the one keeping a journal of all this. I'm taking notes and hope to write a fine book some day about all this.” Then Judas speaks out: “Jesus trusts me with the treasury money; so I must be important. You know the old' saying: 'follow the money trail!'” So they continue arguing among themselves in hushed tones as they walk. Each disciple has his own reasons for feeling important.
Finally, Jesus, who has been leading the pack and half-listening to them, stops, turns to face them, and says, “What are you talking about?” Their silence is deafening. They didn't think Jesus heard them, but he did! The disciples are caught and thoroughly embarrassed. Jesus says “So you each think you're the best one here? Listen to me and listen well. If you really want to be the best, you better learn to become the least. Become the one who serves, not the one who lords it over others.” Then by way of example, Jesus sees a child, lifts him up and and lovingly holds the child in his arms. Then looking directly at his embarrassed disciples, he says, “Whoever of you embraces one of these children as I am doing is also embracing me, and far more than me, embracing the God who sent me to you. This is what makes you my 'best' disciple.”
To understand the significance of what Jesus does, we must realize that in this Jewish culture children meant next to nothing. They had no social status, no power, no voice in family matters. They were a drain on family time, resources and money. Embracing a child was tantamount to losing ones wits! Yet, Jesus is saying that this very embrace is what makes one really important: respecting and helping people in need.
Now picture this scene – 2000 years later. Another group of disciples is walking behind Jesus who once again is leading the way. Upon closer inspection, we are these disciples – there's Francis & Linda & Dennis & Anna & Mark & Nancy & Jean & Gretchen! In fact, we're all here. As did the original Twelve, we too start talking to each other on the journey. Then Jesus surprises us by asking, “What are you talking about?” What are we saying to each other? Are we gossiping? Judging others harshly? Tooting our own importance? Are we also deeply embarrassed, or are we pledging ourselves to be the disciples Jesus wants us to be – ones that respond generously and compassionately to the needs of others? For that's precisely what Jesus asks of us: to be his disciples by serving people in their need. That's when we are at our best!