There are plenty of episodes in Luke where Jesus heals some one of evil spirits, but so far none that spark the kind of conversation this one does. The way this story begins is reminiscent of when Jairus came to him on behalf of his daughter; here a man shouts out to him from the crowd to get him to heal his only child who to them was suffering from an evil spirit of some kind, but to us sounds like violent seizures. Either way, it’s scary, especially for a parent. This man had asked the disciples for help, but they seemed to fail, so he asks Jesus. And Jesus in his kind, gentle, Sunday school, sacrificial, and generous manner responds, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” And Jesus heals him.
Then Jesus moves into another prediction, although this time he only predicts his betrayal. The disciples are confused, but they are afraid to ask for clarification. Can you blame them? Jesus seems a little testy today. Then they begin to argue about who is the greatest, which I think is the core part of this passage. The disciples love to do this, don’t they? They are constantly arguing about who is the greatest, and (from my experience) we love to judge them for it. We respond in a “oh those silly disciples, they just don’t get it” kind of a manner, but are we really any different? I would love for you all to see what happens when our bishop shows up in a room. We (and myself included here) are not that different, vying for the bishop’s attention, trying to get a seat next to him, hoping we can say or do something for which he’ll remember me and hold me in high esteem. If we’re like that with the bishop, I can’t imagine what we’d be like with Jesus. And I’m assuming in non-church world it’s no different. Your CEO shows up, or some other bigwig in your world, and we all swoon. It’s natural.
Jesus gives us a good reminder here, however, of how things work in the Kingdom of God. He grabs a little child, and Luke says that he “put it by his side”. Remember that often what accompanies an argument about who is the greatest is the question of who will sit on Jesus’ right side or left side. Here Jesus brings a child to his side and says, “whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me…” (verse 48). Children were not held in high regard in those days. They were valued only in so far as they were the ones to whom the faith would be handed down, and parents deeply loved their own children, but from a practical standpoint they were viewed in as almost a nuisance until they were 13 and could be of some use. This child here is the one who is brought along side Jesus- not John, Peter or James nor any other disciple or even grown up in the area. A child: “The least among all of you is the greatest”.
This is the Gospel of Luke in a nutshell. Look out because there is a whole new set of rules, a whole new way, a whole new kingdom. In Matthew the Kingdom of God opens up and expands throughout the whole earth. In Mark the Kingdom of God rips open and is poured out onto the earth. In Luke the Kingdom of God turns the earth upside down. Or, maybe better started, it turns the earth right side up.