Summary: Jesus taught the disciples but they did not always understand! This short homily encourages listeners to ask questions; it also reminds us that God knows about everything we do; and that is both comforting and challenging.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin! Of course, it is always likely that God’s word will make us uncomfortable! When we turn to God’s word, seeking the voice of God, there is always plenty to hear; and this short Bible event is packed full of God’s wisdom, and God’s call to us.
Jesus tells the disciples once again about the future fate of the Son of Man (9:31): ‘He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.”’ Jesus has already told the disciples plainly about this and we read about it earlier in Mark’s Gospel (8:31). Yet still, Mark tells us, ‘they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask about it’ (9:32).
I find this event to be interesting, encouraging and challenging all at the same time!
Jesus is teaching his disciples but they just don’t get it! More than that, they are afraid to tell him about their lack of understanding and so they keep it to themselves. So, even those who walked and talked intimately with Jesus had struggles with what he said, and were afraid to ask him about it; and I have no doubt that is also true of us from time to time. We don’t understand something about Jesus, or about God’s ways and we are afraid or just plain timid about asking for help. If that is true of you today or at some point in the future, can I please encourage you (in the words of Chris Tarrant) to phone a friend! If you struggle with some aspect of our faith you are not alone – the first disciples also struggled; but unlike them we have the benefit of 2000 years of the Christian faith. So please don’t hesitate to ask!
Jesus arrives in Capernaum and he has a question (9:33) for the disciples: “What were you arguing about on the road?”
Not only do the disciples fail to bring their misunderstandings to Jesus, they also fall silent when he asks about their private conversations. They keep quiet (9:34); and I guess they are ashamed because they have been arguing about who is the greatest. They didn’t think Jesus could hear them, or they thought Jesus was unaware of their argument, and so they argued away merrily about their status, possibly their future status in the kingdom they expected Jesus to set up.
I am sure that we are all aware of things we have done and said which we would not have done had Jesus been literally standing alongside us. I somehow doubt that the disciples would have voiced their argument if Jesus had been obviously within earshot. The challenge here for us is to remember that God is indeed aware of all that we do and say. There is nowhere we can hide from God, and no sin that we can cover up. Psalm 139 reminds us of this:
‘O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways’ (Psalm 139:1-3); words which are comforting on the one hand, but words which also remind us that God is all-seeing and all-knowing. Sins which we kid ourselves have been done in secret, are not secret at all. The disciples came to realise that, and it is good for us to remember that everything we do and say truly is done in the presence of God.
Lovingly, Jesus does not get angry with the disciples over their argument. He does not squash their ambitions for greatness, but Jesus most certainly does turn upside down their view of greatness. Sitting down, Jesus said to them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last and the servant of all” (9:35). To welcome children, ‘little ones’, those the world sees as insignificant, is to welcome Jesus. Amen!