As the Lord and the disciples journeyed to Capernaum He told them many things about what would happen. They did not understand, and were afraid to ask Him. Something quite different was in their minds.
They came to Capernaum where the Lord had spent so much time in teaching and healing. And when they were together in the house He asked them what they had been disputing about on the way; but they were ashamed to answer, for by the way they had been disputing as to which of them should be the greatest. But the Lord knew what they had been thinking and speaking about and did not need that they should tell Him. They still had the idea that He would be a great earthly king, and that they would be great rulers with Him. But He said if any man wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all; that is, the one who is most truly humble and helpful is the one who is really the greatest. Which kind of greatness was most like the Lord's, the gentle helpful kind, or that of the great kings and emperors?
And as He sat in the midst of them He took a little child in His arms and told them, "Whosoever shall receive one of such children in My name, receiveth Me: and whosoever shall receive Me, receiveth not Me, but Him that sent me." That is, it is only when we become innocent and trustful as a little child that we can receive the Lord.
In the next chapter we read again about the Lord and little children. He was now journeying toward Judea through the country east of Jordan. It would seem that their parents brought them to the Lord, that He would lay His hands upon them and bless them. It was a custom of the Jewish mothers to bring their children to the presidents of the synagogues, that they might lay their hands upon them. But the disciples rebuked those that brought them to the Lord, which displeased Him, and He said unto them - Repeat verses 14, 15, 16. These are the words which are read when a little child is baptized into the church, and they show the Lord's tender love for every little child and His loving welcome for them in His church on earth and in heaven.
What do you suppose the disciples thought of when they disputed about being great? They knew that the Lord was called great and a king (Luke 1:32, 33), and they thought of a great earthly kingdom like the Roman empire only larger and grander. They believed that they should be rulers in this kingdom ; but which of them should have the most power and be nearest to the King? At other times also such thoughts were in the disciples' minds (Mark 10:35-45; Luke 22:24-30) ; even after the Lord's resurrection, they asked "Lord wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6)
They were thinking of such a kingdom, and disputing about the places that they should have in it as they walked to Capernaum. Now they were in the house with the Lord. He knew their thoughts and what they had been saying. Would it please Him to have them thinking of His kingdom in this way, each one wanting, the first place and the most power, or would it grieve Him?
People are really great if they think little about themselves and what they want, and love rather to do for others than to have others do for them (Luke 22:26, 27); and they are the greatest who have no wish but like little children to do every day what the Lord shows them to do. In heaven angels are great because they are useful, and they are the greatest who have least thought of themselves and most willingly let the Lord guide them and make them strong in all they do. They are the most like His little children.
The Lord wanted to teach the disciples this and He called a little child and set him in the midst of them. What a different kind of greatness from that that they had hoped for! But in which way was the Lord Himself great? By having great riches and honor, or by being always kind and helping everybody that needed help? Perhaps we have a new idea who are the great men, in our government and in business; who are great at home and in school, in the sight of angels and the Lord.
It is beautiful to put with this the picture of the Lord blessing little children, which is given us in the next chapter. (Mark 10:13-16)
But do not pass over the very strong practical lessons in the last verses of chapter 9. The Lord's words to John show that there are many ways of serving Him. Our way is not the only way. Especially beware of condemning others because they do not honor us.
The cutting off of hand or foot and plucking out the eye is a very strong lesson of the necessity for cutting off promptly and with courage every habit of action or of thought which offends or causes us to stumble. Our eternal state depends upon it.
1. What idea of greatness did the Lord's disciples have? What new idea of greatness did the Lord give them?
2. How did He show them the true greatness in His own example? How else did He show it to them?
3. How must I cut off my hand or foot, or pluck out my eye?
4. What is the little child which it is so dangerous to offend?
Find other places in the Bible where little children are symbols of heavenly innocence with its true greatness. (Mark 10:14-16; Matthew 11:25; Isaiah 11:8, 9; A. 5608) In what sense is it true of us all, that the Lord sets a little child in the midst of us, which it is our duty to protect and nourish, and by no means to injure? It is the little child of innocence in our hearts that keeps us open to heaven and the Lord. (H. 407, 408) If we willfully do violence to this innocence we sink into evil and into hell. The condition is more serious than when one is led astray by false reasoning, which is represented by being drowned by an ass-millstone. The great stone is the stone of falsity, and the ass marks it as falsity of natural thought and reason. (E. 1182; A. 9755)
How are we to cut off and cast away the hand or foot that causes us to stumble? The hand stands for acts done by the hand and for the desire which prompts them. The foot also stands for the little acts which are as steps on our path of life; the understanding with its thoughts is the mind's eye. Cut off summarily and without reserve every habit and every desire and thought which leads away from innocence. (A. 9051; E. 600) He is truly a great hero who does this promptly and thoroughly. (Proverbs 16:32) Compare what is said here about entering into life with one eye, with the saying in Matthew 6:22, about the need for keeping the eye single. There must be no division of love or thought between good and evil, truth and falsity.
What are the worm that dieth not, and the fire that is not quenched? You easily see that the fire is the burning of evil love, which if confirmed in this life burns on hereafter. You will infer that the worm is the gnawing of false thought, and it is. (A. 8481)
What is good salt, and salt which has lost its savor? Salt which promotes the assimilation of food and in turn awakens thirst, represents the necessity for union between truth and goodness, falsity and evil. Our verse extends the thought to happy, peaceful union of one with another. Salt without savor is truth not joined with good, which also tends to division and dissension among brethren. You see the meaning of the command to offer salt with every sacrifice. (Leviticus 2:13; A. 9207; E. 223)