1. Exposition

Is this verse an allusion to the reception of the disciples by the people of Israel?

Mark 9:37 (ESV)

37 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

The right understanding of his statement is hindered by the fact that we know the expressions “receive” and “in my name” from what Jesus said when he sent out the twelve apostles (Mark 6:11, Matthew 10:14, 40-41, Luke 9:5; Luke 10:8–10). Involuntarily we then tend to hear an allusion here also to the reception of the disciples by the people of Israel. 9:37, however, does not speak of the reception of the disciples. They themselves were indeed thinking of that: how are we going to be received and who is then the greatest? Jesus, however, turns their attention to something else. Disciples are not called to look after the way they themselves are received; they are there to prepare for others the honour of a reception. Rather than the public being there for them, they are there for the public. As servants await their lord and as the more subordinate servants also await the little children, so the disciples, who want to be the greatest, also must be the servants of all and therefore willing to receive (and teach) in Jesus’ name even the insignificant children. As it is not beneath the Master’s dignity to embrace, before the eyes of the most important disciples, a small child, so it must not be beneath the disciples’ dignity to accept anyone in Jesus’ name. Great apostles will in times to come be allowed to open their arms for the reception of a worldwide church that is made up of not many noble people and not many rich. If they are willing to be the teachers and shepherds of such unimportant people and children, they will in fact welcome Christ. He comes to them with these elect and leads them by his Spirit into the arms of the apostles. And, as they already know, this means also receiving the Lord who has sent Jesus for the salvation of many sinners. In short: disciples are not chosen to stride ahead of the greatest, but to receive and carry, as servants, even the smallest. That is how one becomes great in the kingdom of heaven.1