Called to Obscurity.

The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

                            Called to Obscurity.

Once at a church I served, two people stopped by the office and asked if they could speak to someone about having a child baptised. As it happened, one was a young man who with his family had come into town to take over management of one of the local banks. The other was a young woman, a girl really, unmarried and with a new baby.

The Rector decided he would visit the banker’s family, and I was to visit the young girl’s family.

When I went to her home, I found her living in a basement apartment, not with her family. The place was sparsely furnished, but clean and tidy. The father of the baby was there as were two or three of her friends. Not one of them was over eighteen years old, I guessed.

The young mother lovingly held her baby as I talked with her – with them all – and filled in the baptism application.  When I asked about godparents,  she had that organized. They were both there with her. One was a young man, a friend of the baby’s father, and the other was a young Asian woman, friend of the mother.

I got to the part in the form which asks the godparent’s religion, and whether they are baptised and confirmed, the Asian girl said she was Hindu. I didn’t ask about her baptism or confirmation. And I didn’t tell her or the baby’s mother that the godparent must be a baptised Christian. I could see the way these young people supported each other,  and I wasn’t about to interfere with that. Anyway what the bishop didn’t know wouldn’t hurt him, I figured.

I did visit  them at home a few times after the baptism, and to see that the baby was alright, but I lost track of them in time.

They would be easy to lose track of. They were the sort of kids you wouldn’t notice on the street. You would walk right by them.

Frankly, in our society, they were insignificant.

Mark tells us a story in which Jesus gives the disciples lessons in ‘insignificance.’

They needed lessons. 

As they have walked with him through Galilee, he has been teaching them that the Son of Man – he – would be handed over to people who would kill him, but that three days later he would rise to life.

We are told that the disciples didn’t understand what he meant and were afraid to ask.

When they arrived in Capernaum, Jesus asked his friends about what they had been arguing on the way. They didn’t answer.  But he knew.

They had been arguing among themselves about which of them was the greatest.

He sat down and told them to gather around and told them that to get the place of honor, one must become a slave and serve others.

To be honored – in the coming kingdom – one should strive to be insignificant in this world.

He brings a child forward as an example.

Children had no status in the ancient world. Unwanted babies would be left out in the cold to die. In a world where most people didn’t know where their next meal was coming from, the  breadwinner would be fed first – to ensure the family’s survival – and the children were fed last, if at all.

So the child that Jesus brought forward exemplified insignificance, if you like.

Being insignificant is not a goal we aim for in our life, is it?

Most of us have striven to get on in our jobs, and sometimes have considered what we do to be important to our employer, and are upset if we don’t get recognition, or worse, if someone else we don’t think worthy, seems to get that recognition.  

Our culture is driven by the struggle for recognition – to be significant in some way.

If you doubt me, then check the number of people who tune into the Idol series on television.

Look at the magazines that face you as you wait to go through the supermarket check out. Whom do they feature? Celebrities, of course, has-beens and wannabes, and flavor of the day. People want to know what celebrities eat, where they live, how much they earn.  And like, what have they done now?

A few years ago, there was one young woman who had no apparent talent, apart from her good looks, and who was making millions a year, because somehow, she was a celebrity. Paris Hilton was famous just for being famous. 

Our society worships those who are significant, and despises those who have faded into insignificance.   Although those who have past the prime of their celebrity still keep popping up, trying to be significant again.

That’s not what Jesus wants for us. As he told his disciples, serve others if you wish to be held in regard in His Kingdom. Make yourself insignificant.

When I was a kid, and I got sick, my parents would send me down the road to the local clinic. One of the doctors, was Dr. Skelly.

I don’t know how old she was. Probably forty or so at that time. Her hair had been coloured and some of the colour had grown out, and coloured again, and some of that had grown out too and her hair consequently always seemed to be two or three colors. She probably did it herself.

She wore down-at-heel shoes, and usually had a ladder in her stockings. And she drove a car that harked back to before the war. WW 2 , that was.

Some of the mothers who took their children down to the clinic used to smile at each other as she went by. They would never be seen like that.

Some years later, for some reason I mentioned Dr. Skelly to a friend. He was a Roman Catholic and Dr. Skelly was a member of his church. He told me that she subsisted on next to nothing and that she sent most of her salary to support those who had nothing. 

Where some of her colleagues would drive expensive cars, she had an old  banger. Where some of her peers wore fashionable clothing, and ate at expensive restaurants, she wore old clothes and ate at the cheapest places.

Out of her white coat, and away from that clinic, you wouldn’t have known what she did. You wouldn’t even have noticed her. She made herself insignificant so she could help others even more insignificant.

That’s what Jesus wants from us. It’s the same theme he has preached all along.

To be first you must be the last.

To achieve your reward in His Kingdom, you must put other people’s needs before yours. 

You must take up your cross.

Dr. Skelly’s ministry was one of helping others by denying herself.  I guess you could say that she had taken up her cross, couldn’t you?

Although she would never characterize it like that. If asked, she would probably say, “ My own needs are quite small, so I just use what I have to help others. What’s so big about that?”

Or she might say, “I have been given a talent, a gift, by God and since God gave me that gift, I am compelled to use it to help Him, help others.”

Somebody has to!  Don’t they?

Jesus was giving his disciples a gift –  the gift of the Gospel – to use to help others  – and so that those others would have the opportunity of knowing God, and also of serving His people, and sharing in His kingdom.

He didn’t give them that gift so they could lord it over each other. As they seemed to think.

He didn’t give them the gift of fame. Or celebrity. Or of rank. Or of authority. He gave them a gift they could use to serve others. He gave them the gift of life

What gift have you or I been given? And are we using that gift to puff up ourselves, or to uplift others?

If we consider that whatever talent we have has been given us by God, then how could we consciously use it for our benefit alone? 

Jeff Miller, whose interpretations of scripture you used to be able to find on the net at Bible.Org, sees Jesus’ followers as being called to a ministry  of insignificance?

Are you fearful for your reputation or your status?  If so, then remember Jesus. He became insignificant and endured the cross for you and me.

Jeff says: That’s what a disciple of Jesus will do. He or she chooses insignificance over recognition.

Takes some thinking about, doesn’t it? It goes against what our society teaches us.

Outside the art world, Andy Warhol was best known for saying, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

Sometimes it seems like no-one can wait for their fifteen minutes, doesn’t it?

Some people will sell their souls for their fifteen minutes of fame.

Fifteen minutes!

Jesus calls us to obscurity in this world in exchange for an eternity of joy hereafter.

Is that a hard choice to make?

Fifteen minutes against eternity?