Proper 20 / Ordinary Time 25 / 17th Sunday after the Day of Pentecost
30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, "The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again." 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."
"From there" was the previous pericope about Jesus casting out demons from a boy possessed by a deaf and dumb spirit (word here is spirit, same as we use for holy spirit), boy left for dead; Jesus rebukes the "foul spirit" with his voice and word, then touches him and raises him to new life. A resurrection account.
In the gospel text for today they've gone through Galilee, where again Jesus announces his pending betrayal, assassination, death, and (three days later) resurrection. Here he uses his favorite title, "Son of Man /Human One"—born of a woman. The human one killed by humans, by one of his own kind. The disciples didn't understand and feared to ask. As usual.
When and why do we fear what?
They get to Capernaum, Jesus' primary hangout and place of operation during his three-year public ministry. Another discussion of who would be greatest and best, probably wanted to be closest to their (fearless) leader Jesus. Jesus knows something is up, asks what, they're silent (embarrassed?).
Jesus says there is a way to be first: you gotta place yourself last among everyone; you need to serve everyone. Example of a little child (this is simply generic little kid, nothing special), and says part of this servant lifestyle is welcoming a child in the name of Jesus. Welcoming Jesus means welcoming the One Who sent Jesus—the Father.
Discussion of names: meaning, power, essence, other associations. Authority, esp with the name of Jesus! To know someone's name means to have power over them. Welcoming a child or welcoming anyone in the name of Christ?
The late pastor and chef Robert Farrar Capon reminded us God saves only the last, the least, the little, and the lost.
In the next section John complains to Jesus about someone casting out demons in the name of Jesus, who doesn't care about being anonymous, only that good ministry gets done because if they're not against us they're for us (the Jesus folks). A cup of water to those who bear the name of Christ!
The verses immediately before and after the gospel for today, Pentecost 17 bring us a kind of Marcan sandwich with casting out demons on the outside, ideas about greatness and servanthood on the inside.
"Shape us, Christ, to live and claim all it means to bear your name."
Thomas H. Troeger, Make Our Church One Joyful Choir