The Way to the Top

2021-09-19 – Year B – Proper 20 – The Rev. Canon Christopher M. Klukas
Wisdom 1:16—2:1, 12-22; Ps 54; James 3:16—4:6; Mark 9:30-37

  • In 2014, a research team “compared the amount of individual talent on teams with the teams’ success, and they [found] striking examples of more talent hurting the team…Basketball and soccer teams with the greatest proportion of elite athletes performed worse than those with more moderate proportions of top level players…When a team roster is flooded with individual talent, pursuit of personal star status may prevent the attainment of team goals. The basketball player chasing a point record, for example, may cost the team by taking risky shots instead of passing to a teammate who is open and ready to score.”

Who is the Greatest?

  • Jesus gently begins the conversation by asking a question. Mark 9:32.
  • vv. 33-34 – The disciples argued about who was the greatest.
    • Ironic because in the previous passage, none of them were able to cast out a demon!
  • v. 35 Jesus sat down, taking the traditional posture of a Jewish teacher. “If anyone would be first…”
    • This might seem backwards to you, it would have seemed backwards to the disciples as well. The way of the world is to promote yourself. To fight your way to the top. To make sure you get ahead so you aren’t left behind.
    • This attitude comes from a lack of trust in God.
  • Jesus furthers his point by bringing a child into the conversation. Mark 9:36-37
    • “the same Aramaic word means both child and servant.”
    • Children had a pretty lowly status in the ancient world. They were considered to be unimportant. The same attitude can be found today.
    • Jesus is saying, “serve the unimportant ones, the ones you won’t get any human credit for serving.”
  • When you put yourself last and serve others, even if no one sees the work you do. God sees it and it pleases him. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…” (Mark 9:37)


  • Jesus doesn’t name the sin at work in the greatness discussion, James does: Jealousy and selfish ambition (James 3:16). He adds one more similar word: Pride (4:6).
    • Pride is a comparison game. Comparing yourself to the people around you. Trying to find your worth by perceiving yourself as better than others.
    • TS Eliot – “Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.”
  • James 3:15 Jealousy and selfish ambition are “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”
  • James 3:16 – Small seeds that lead to big problems. Acorns become oak trees.
    • The ancient and medival church saw pride as the root of all sin (Aquinas).
    • James 4:1-2. Can you identify?
  • This is not the “wisdom from above” (James 3:16). It is the wisdom of the world, the same wisdom that the disciples were following in their argument.


  • James also points to the wisdom that IS from above – James 3:17-18.
    • We can sum this all up with one word that James uses in v. 13: “meek.”
    • “…Christian meekness involves a healthy understanding of our own unworthiness before God and a corresponding humility and lack of pride in our dealings with others.”
    • Meekness is “An attitude of humble, submissive and expectant trust in God, and a loving, patient and gentle attitude towards others.”
    • Meekness looks like weakness to the world. Our wisdom comes from above.


“Even as the road to hell is lined with all the vices, and especially pride, all the virtues lead toward the kingdom of heaven, and especially humility. For the root of all evil is pride, and the root of all good is humility. It is only fitting that one who exalts himself shall be humbled, and one who humbles himself shall be exalted.”

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