Endowment Effect

Mark 9:30-37

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.”


Good morning! Have you ever been in a conversation where the other person just doesn’t understand what you’re saying? No matter how hard you work to explain something, the message isn’t getting through. I’m not a parent, but I’m gonna guess that all parents have these moments. No matter how smart your kids are, there’s something that they can’t comprehend. So, you repeat the lesson, over and over, hoping that something gets through.

That’s where we find Jesus in this morning’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus and the disciples are on their way to Capernaum in Galilee, and the disciples are arguing about which one of them is the greatest. Have they learned nothing along the way? Have they seen nothing?

Let’s look back at our last two gospel lessons. Two weeks ago, Jesus and the disciples were way up north in Tyre, in what’s now Lebanon, where Jesus healed the daughter of a Gentile woman. Then he went to the Gentile cities of the Decapolis, to continue preaching and teaching. Also, he told the disciples that he would be betrayed and handed over to the authorities; he would suffer and die. That’s not exactly what the disciples were looking for in a Messiah.

Then in last Sunday’s lesson, we heard Jesus rebuking Peter for keeping his mind on human things instead of heavenly things. And in the material from Chapters 8 and 9 that we’ve skipped over, Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000 people who had come to hear him teach and he continued to heal people along the way. He fed and healed Gentiles, not the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.

In fact, this is what Jesus has been doing for the first half of the Gospel of Mark: He arrives, proclaiming that the reign of God has come near. He teaches, He heals, He feeds. Lather, rinse, repeat. And the disciples still don’t get it!

They argue over which one of them is the greatest. They continue to set their minds on worldly things. They measure greatness in human terms. And yet again, Jesus has to correct them; he has to refocus them. I think that the disciples know that they’re wrong. When Jesus asks them what they’re arguing about, they don’t answer the question.

Let me ask those of you who are parents: does this sound familiar? As a kid, the last thing I wanted to admit was that my parents were right—about anything! This may be a universal tendency.

I read an interesting article a while ago about some experiments that were conducted by some psychologists—this is where the title of my sermon comes from. The endowment effect explains how we attach value to the material things in our lives, how we struggle to hold on to the things we already have, and how we believe we are entitled to these things. This was the idea behind my children’s sermon this morning.

In the experiments, the researchers recruited a bunch of people to play the game Monopoly. In every group, there was only one player who was given two dice. All of the other players were only given a single die. That gave a decisive advantage to the player who had two dice. Of course, the player who had two dice always won.

After each game, the researchers interviewed all the players. They asked the players why they won or lost. The player who lost all said, “I lost because I only had one die,” they knew the other player had an unfair advantage. But the players who won said that they won because they played better, they made better choices. They were unable to acknowledge that they had an advantage. They were endowed with greater material resources and they believed that their success was related to their skills, the worldly things that they’d been given or what they had learned. As far as I know, none of the players with two dice volunteered to give up a die and play under the same conditions as the other players.

The people in the experiment who played Monopoly with both dice remind me a bit of the disciples in our lesson this morning. They can’t see—or don’t want to see—what’s really going on around them. One of the really interesting things about this story is what the disciples don’t do or don’t say.