Jesus has drawn his disciples deeper into the story of what it means to be fully human: to know that we are children of our loving heavenly Father, with everything that is his at our disposal; and to reign as kings and queens exercising power and authority delegated to us by the King of the Universe. He has taught them to use that power and authority to drive out unclean spirits, bringing freedom to the demonised, and sent them out (Mark 6:7) to do so. And they have. And then they come across a demon who defies them: not just a pair of them (Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs), but the combined presence of nine of them. It is a moment of very public failure. Jesus takes them away from the public glare, and brings them back, once again, to the story: they need to dig in to prayer, into intimacy with their Father; and they need to dig in to fasting, into exercising rule over, starting with their own appetites.
But no sooner have they been brought back to the story than they go forgetting it. Hot on the heels of public failure, they get caught arguing over which of them is the greatest. And yet again, Jesus brings them back to the story: they are not chosen, are not special, because of what they have done, but because they are God’s beloved children; they have not been given power and authority to be served, but to serve – not to add to the slavery that burdens those around them, but to set people free.
Jesus takes a child and stands with him in the middle of the circle, calling them to repent and believe. To come back to the story, and live it out.
On Sunday I will be conducting a baptism: immersing a child into our story, that they might come to know and love the God who knows and loves them, and fight valiantly as a faithful soldier of Christ against everything that opposes heaven’s life-giving reign throughout all their days. The readings will be from Psalm 145:1-8, which reminds us that it is our duty and our joy to pass the story of what God has done and his purposes for his creation on to the next generation; and Mark 9:30-37, which reminds us that we easily forget our story – are regularly tempted to exchange it for a lesser story, and so find ourselves enslaved, by fear or greed – and need those to whom we pass it on to remind us of it. Together, they describe a beautiful inter-dependent relationship, the heart of family as God hopes and dreams for it to be.