Proper 20(B): A Reversal of Social Order
By: The Rev. Kim Sorrells
This passage is one that many of us are familiar with. The call to serve or to welcome children are ones that we hear in church frequently. Often, we have heard this passage used in a fairly casual and warm-hearted manner. We may see it partially quoted on a Hallmark-style print with Jesus surrounded by happy children, or used to promote volunteer work. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with applying the text to these aspects of the Christian faith, if we are honest with ourselves, this texts asks much more of us than to simply welcome children in church or do an hour or two of volunteer work.
The way of life that Jesus calls his disciples to is one that flips upside down the values of power and prestige of their culture. Rather, here in his community the lowly will be elevated, and the higher up made humble. The ways of society that value some above others will be turned upside down. The word in verse 35 that the NRSV translates as “servant” is diakonos, which in that time referred to someone who served meals. They were the servant of all and the lowest rank of all servants. In fact, they were only allowed to eat after all others had been satisfied. The next section on children was related. While we miss it in English, Mark’s audience would have noticed when hearing this read that the word paidon for “little child” is similar to another word for servant, pais, whose inflected form also has a “d” sound. Not only would the recognition be one of vocabulary, but they also would have heard the word child as referring to someone like a servant who served meals in that both were not honored or seen as holding any high standing. A person would gain nothing by extending hospitality to these persons consider lowly. They have nothing to offer them and not status or power to be gleaned from them. And yet, these are the ones that Jesus says to honor them.
It’s not hard to see that what Jesus is calling for is a flip of what society tells us to do. If we are followers of Christ, we are to be the ones who are also turning our society’s values of prestige and power upside down. We are called to welcome those who have nothing to offer us; those who grant us no access to power or prestige.
I can’t help but notice that we don’t always do such a great job at this. As I write this, our country is currently consumed in a debate over immigration that sees people by what they can offer to us rather than as human beings. We see families torn apart, children cast into concentration style camps away from their parents, all because their parents sought to find asylum on our shores. Little children, servants, worthless—these are the ways we are treating them. And yet, as followers of Christ, we are called to turn that reality upside down and inside out. What would it look like if we elevate these children, welcomed them with hospitality the way that we claim to welcome Jesus? I image, much more so like the Kin-dom of God rather than a nation of humanity. I imagine it might look like a place where justice is the highest value, rather than power and prestige.
The sad reality is that there are a number of ways that we fall short of this expectation. Too many children face growing up in subpar schools or without adequate access to what they need to thrive. Too many people don’t receive basic healthcare because they can’t afford it. Too many people work well over 40 hours a week and yet cannot make enough to survive. Is it perhaps because we continue to maintain a system that fails to provide hospitality and honor to all humans?
We as people of faith are called to be change makers; to turn the system upside down. If we are not actively trying to dismantle systems of oppression, we are in fact perpetuating them. I believe the word this passage speaks to us today is that we must examine how it is that we are or are not living into this call to be change makers in our world. Are we perpetuating the status quo, or are we working to dismantle systems of oppression and instead bring about the Kin-dom of God, on earth as it is in Heaven.
 Ringe, Sharon H. (2010) David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor (eds). Feasting on The Word, (Year B, Vol. 4, Proper 20, p 95) Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press
 Ibid. 97
The Rev. Kim Sorrells is an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Christ, with an interest in Spiritual Practices and Justice work. Kim is also bi-vocational and spends their “day job” working for Atlanta Pride as the Programs and Partnerships Manager.
One thought on “Proper 20(B): A Reversal of Social Order”
Thank you for this beautiful commentary. I love that you’ve taken the “nice” image of gentle Jesus with the children and called us to action as servants. As a deacon who serves a Latino community, this speaks to me. I am heartbroken over what is happening to immigrant children, and I know that God weeps with us.