Mark 9:33-37 “Who would be the greatest?”
Around the time that Muhammad Ali went from being Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., he “converted to Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay, which he called his “slave name,” to Muhammad Ali (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Ali). This he did even though “he was named for his father, Cassius Marcellus Clay Sr.(1912–1990), who himself was named in honor of the 19th-century Republican politician and staunch abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay.” Some speculate that the name Cassius goes back to the opponent of Caesar, who would later commit suicide, and “also shown in the lowest circle of hell in Dante‘s Inferno as punishment for betraying and killing Caesar.” Pride comes before a downfall (Pr. 16:18).
Even in jest, this clearly is not to be the sentiment of a Christian. Jesus alone is the greatest and King of the world and all things. It is not surprising that Cassius would then change his name. Jesus’ close disciples disputed who among them as to who would be the greatest, betraying the level of ignorance that they still had at this point (vv. 33-34). However, this was the philosophy of the world, and still is for many. To suggest that the greatest is the servant of all, is for many laughable (v. 35). What is more, Jesus “took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me’” (vv. 36-37).
A little child here is “paidion…an infant or half-grown boy or girl” (Strong’s). Although teknia refers exclusively to infants, and paidia can refer to infants or half-grown children, in this context paidion (repeated at 10:13-15), is modified in Luke’s account by his use of brephos, which also only ever refers to an infant or babe (18:15-16). There can be no mistaking the fact that Jesus regarded infants or babes as examples of those who are citizens of his kingdom, and he blessed them as such, long before they could utter words of confession. It ought therefore to be shocking that so-called Christian churches bar infants of covenant members from baptism or the Lord’s own supper of blessing! By implication, not to receive such in the manner the Lord himself has prescribed is to not receive him or the Father.
What is it about an infant or babe that makes them the perfect example of what constitutes a true citizen of the kingdom? For one thing, they know their utter dependency on another for their very life. Secondly, they trust those under whose care they rest. These are the hallmarks of the true child of grace. Our salvation is all of grace, as is our ongoing life. A true child knows their utter dependency on God, and looks continually to him for all his mercies. It is such who understand that we are to likewise serve him and others, even as Jesus has served us and continues to serve us. Do we aspire to greatness? Then we must employ whatever gifts and means that the Lord has given each one of his, including to pray for his kingdom to come, and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Cf. Mt. 6:10; Lk. 11:2).