Skip to content Skip to footer

The Distraction of Competition

Lesson 38 –

Mark 9:30-37 NRSV

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.”

Right before this passage, Jesus heals a boy who is overcome with an unclean spirit. He is frustrated at the ways the people have failed him over and over. Healing, children, and societal disappointment are a consistent feature in this gospel. Later in this chapter, Jesus expresses his frustration with people by calling them “stumbling blocks.” Anyone who presents themselves as an obstacle to “the little ones” will suffer a grave fate. In your own devotional period, consider why Jesus is so adamant about these little ones.

Today’s lesson will focus on the distraction of competition.

Read the scripture out loud together. What’s happening during this passage?

On their ongoing journey, Jesus doesn’t want anyone to know where he is going or what he is up to. He tells the disciples that he is to be “betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” Of course, the disciples do not understand what he’s saying.
Eventually they come to Capernuaum, and Jesus asks them, “what were you all arguing about earlier?” None of them wanted to speak up. The argument was about “who was the greatest.” Eventually they had a heart-to-heart discussion. He reminded them that whoever wants to be first must be last and servant of all. He brought a child to them and said, “whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

Why were they arguing?
In every group, there’s always competition. Who’s your favorite Temptation? Member of New Edition? Destiny’s Child? Clark Sister? Sometimes the group has nothing to do with these flames of competition. Sometimes they help stoke those flames. For these disciples, “who is the greatest” comes up more than once in their journey with Christ. They are stuck in a very human battle of proving they are the best so they can receive rewards and accepting that everyone has a role to play in the Kin-Dom of God.
When you’ve spent so long competing (for resources, attention, care, love) it is hard to shift out of that mindset.

Why does Jesus speak in these riddles?
Jesus is keenly aware that he is being watched and tracked. He even speaks of himself in third person here. Jesus says, “The Son Of Man is to be betrayed and killed, but he will rise again after three days.” He does not say “I will be betrayed and killed, and I will rise again after three days.” This confuses the disciples and likely distracts them from the petty argument they were having earlier. Jesus knows that something groundbreaking will happen to him, but he cannot yet reveal all that will happen to the disciples. As a leader, he makes the choice to be somewhat vulnerable.

What questions do you still have of this scripture? How will you commit to journeying with this text this week?

Connection to Today’s World

In its 20-year history, reality show Big Brother has never had a Black winner. On this game show, contestants live in a custom-built house under video surveillance. In this most recent season, six Black contestants created an alliance to ensure that the show would finally have its first Black winner. In the past, Black contestants have lamented that White houseguests bullied and targeted them, making it impossible for Black contestants to stay on the show.
Alliance member Xavier Prather told the team, “This is a win for all of us. All of us can consider ourselves winners.”
For this group of people on this show, ensuring that somebody Black would make it to the winning spot was success enough. Rather than taking each other down or sabotaging each other, the Black contestants worked together. Competition can bring out the ugliness in people, but it can also provide an opportunity for people to develop solidarity.

Journal: Where have you experienced competitive spirits in your life? Was it worth it?

Closing: Listen to “Lean on Me,” sung by Bill Withers.

Sometimes in our lives
We all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me
When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on.
For it won’t be long
Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill
Those of your needs that you won’t let show

You just call on me brother when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand
We all need somebody to lean on.


Dear God,
You see all and know all.
We are so frequently right in the middle of a big fork in the road. Do we compete or do we collaborate? When do we choose to do either? Is there a time and a place for both?
Remind us of your desires for us. That we would have life more abundantly. Show us how to build a world where we do not fight over petty things, and where we learn to focus on the more important things you’ve called us to.
In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.