“. . . whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:37
The pronouns Saint Mark uses in the verses of the Gospel reading help us to think about the story and what it says to us. There are the third person pronouns, “they”, “he”, “them”, “him”, “whoever”, “it”; there is the second person pronoun, “you”; and there are the first person pronouns, “my” and “me”.
The third person pronouns tell us of Jesus and his disciples continuing on their journey. There should be a feeling of safety and security, for Verse 30 tells us, “They went on from there and passed through Galilee.” This is their home area, if they don’t feel safe here, then there is nowhere that they will feel safe. But the disciples are not offered anything by way of assurance, Saint Mark says, Jesus “did not want anyone to know it.” It is not a time for happiness or welcome, rather it is a time for further hard teaching, Verse 31 tells us, “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.'” The disciples seem mystified, if he was talking about himself, why did he use the word “him”? Verse 32 says, “they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” Perhaps they might have expected the atmosphere to improve, because they come to Capernaum. Saint Matthew Chapter 4 Verse 13 says that Jesus, “left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the lake.” Surely back in his home place, Jesus would relax?
What does the story say to us about our own journey of faith? Are we like the disciples at times, are we mystified by what it means to follow Jesus? Or do we understand and prefer to feel mystified? Why were the disciples afraid to ask? Perhaps because they knew that Jesus would spell things out to them in very plain terms. if Jesus was speaking in plain terms to us, what might he say?
The second person pronoun, the word “you”, comes as a direct challenge to the disciples, “What were you arguing about on the way?” Jesus asks them. He could have asked an indirect question, he could have said, “what was the conversation about?” Instead he is direct, asking them about “you”, and he is accusatory, “what were you arguing about?” The disciples are embarrassed at being directly confronted by Jesus, their conversation had seemed almost childish, following, as it did, Jesus’ warning about his coming suffering. Verse 34 says, ” they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” Jesus realizes things must be explained in unmistakeable terms. Verses 35-36 tell us, “He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms.” Jesus speaks to each of them personally, directly.
As Christians, there is always a temptation to hear the words of Jesus and to assume they are spoken to someone else, to assume they do not apply to us. The disciples might have tried a similar approach, disregarding the awkward things that Jesus said if he had not addressed them directly, “you.” Jesus speaks to us as “you.” If he asked us questions concerning what were were talking about, what we were doing, wouldn’t we share the embarrassment felt by the disciples when they had to confess they were only concerned with themselves? If Jesus speaks to us as “you”, how do we respond?
Having spoken of himself in the third person as the “Son of Man”, as “him”, in Verse 37, Jesus uses the first person pronoun, “me”, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Jesus is clear and direct in identifying himself with the child and the child with himself. It was an explicit teaching for his disciples that no-one was to be excluded, for in excluding even those who might be considered insignificant, they would exclude Jesus.
We might prefer to forget Jesus’ words to his disciples, it is much easier to be concerned with those whom we like and to ignore others than to take to heart Jesus’ concern for everyone. Jesus says to us that each of us have infinite dignity because he died for each of us, to turn from anyone is to turn from him, and to turn from him is to turn from God.
The third, second and first person pronouns, in each Jesus asks us if we are his disciples.