Jesus Short Circuits the Disciples’ Minds

Free stock image of Mosaic of Vineyards and Olive Tree Groves - Douro Valley created by Jack Moreh
Jack Moreh

Proverbs 31:10-31

Psalm 1

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

Mark 9:30-37

30-32 Then they left that district and went straight through Galilee. Jesus kept this journey secret for he was teaching his disciples that the Son of Man would be betrayed into the power of men, that they would kill him and that three days after his death he would rise again. But they were completely mystified by this saying, and were afraid to question him about itPhillips

These two verses are packed with information as well as the clear statement that is the basis of Christianity.

First, we learn that Jesus and his disciples—likely only the Twelve—were able to walk through Galilee, their home territory, without anyone knowing they were there. Once you understand the geography of Galilee, it is difficult to imagine 13 men walking around without being noticed. The photo above is a fair representation of the whole region in that time. Unlike today, people worked their crops nearly every day. It was all hand labor.

Second, Jesus had no misgivings about leaving thousands unhealed and untaught. His time on earth was limited and he had other things to do. Perhaps the second most important job Jesus had was to get his disciples ready to take over when he was gone. I could be argued to be job one. Considering how thick-headed they all seemed to be, that was a full-time job.

Third, we are told that Jesus wanted time with the Twelve for special instruction that was not intended for everyone—yet. Mark gives us a bare bones outline of what was perhaps a week as well as a skimpy teaching report. Matthew repeats this in nearly the same words. Luke does add more detail about what the Twelve were thinking. 45 But they didn’t understand what he meant by this. It had been concealed from them so that they would not grasp its meaning, and they were afraid to ask him about itCJB

We read this kind of thing throughout the Bible, giving us the idea that God does not want us to understand. In fact, the understanding comes later. First, they must get the idea, then when the resurrection happens, the disciples can begin to piece the teachings together. They do that in a shared setting where the disciples—the larger group—talk it out until they are ready at Pentecost for the full picture to fill their minds with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Consider this statement: the Son of Man would be betrayed into the power of men. Jesus did not suggest that one of his own would betray him. This early in the ministry, he may not have known that it would be one of the Twelve. We know two things about Jesus; he received from God everything he needed when he needed it; and he had a human body with a human brain that could not hold unlimited information.

If God told Jesus, ‘Pick Judas from Iscariot because he will betray you at the end,’ how difficult would that have been for Jesus day after day? I do believe God gave Jesus what he needed, and it could be that Jesus needed to love on Judas as compensation. That goes on my long list of questions for God/Son when I sit at the banquet table in the New Jerusalem.

Notice also that Jesus was to be turned over to humans. You and I might have joined the crowd that turned against Jesus. Clearly, Jesus does not blame either Jews or Romans; he blames us.

33 So they came to Capernaum. And when they were indoors he asked them, “What were you discussing as we came along?” 34-35 They were silent, for on the way they had been arguing about who should be the greatest. Jesus sat down and called the twelve, and said to them, “If any man wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” 36-37 Then he took a little child and stood him in front of them all, and putting his arms round him, said to them, “Anyone who welcomes one little child like this for my sake is welcoming me. And the man who welcomes me is welcoming not only me but the one who sent me!” Phillips

Capernaum was the base of operation for Jesus and his followers. Phillips chose not to specify that they entered a house, we assume the house where Jesus—at least—lived when they were in the town. Likely it was the home of Peter who moved his family there from Bethsaida.

We can only speculate about the living arrangements of Jesus before his baptism, but some think he may have been living there, perhaps for years, preparing himself for his ministry. If so, the house could have been his. Again, is so, perhaps Mary moved there to be closer to him. This has large question marks?

The tradition throughout the Roman world of the day—but based on Greek tradition—when a teacher was traveling with his students, even walking a few meters, no student would dare walk beside the teacher unless invited to do so. We then should see Jesus striding along with the disciples strung out behind. No doubt, the discussion got a little heated and Jesus overheard enough to know what was going on. God did not have to tell him about it.

‘So….boys, what’s up?’

I would guess by then they knew Jesus had eyes and ears everywhere, but they still were not willing to confess to such teenage behavior. (It is hard for us to remember that they were mostly under age 25—best guess.)

Jesus takes a seat, a signal that the lesson was about to come. The students always stood. “If any man wants to be first, he must be last and servant of all.” Mark repeats this message at 10:45 in response to John and James’ request that they sit on either side of Jesus in Heaven. No, whoever among you wants to be great must become the servant of you all, and if he wants to be first among you he must be the slave of all men! For the Son of Man himself has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life to set many others freePhillips

John gives us the ultimate repeat of the message in John 13:3-5.  By supper-time, the devil had already put the thought of betraying Jesus in the mind of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son. Jesus, with the full knowledge that the Father had put everything into his hands and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from the supper-table, took off his outer clothes, picked up a towel and fastened it round his waist. Then he poured water into the basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel around his waistPhillips

Most of the disciples dressed like their master, that is, wearing a long robe over undergarments. They did not have to aske if it was boxers or briefs. The loins were girded with a cloth not unlike a diaper. Over that they wear a tunic which was like an extra-long tee shirt that covered the chest and groin. Men doing labor generally wore only the tunic. Ladies avert your eyes.

Jesus striped down to his tunic, just like household slaves, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, just like a household slave. Can the image of being a Christian be any clearer?

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence

Who Do You Say I Am?

Architecture, Stairway, Columns, Inside
Not the stairway to Heaven

Proverbs 1:20-33

Psalm 19

James 3:1-12

Mark 8:27-38

Last week, the reading in Mark ended at the end of chapter 7. Let’s take a quick look at the first 26 verses of today’s chapter. First comes the feeding of the 4,000; often debated as some misunderstanding of a single feeding account. There are so many differences between the feeding in chapter 6 and this one in chapter 8 that they are likely two different events.

The Pharisees again seek a clear sign that Jesus is the Promised One. ‘You will have no sign because you cannot see the many signs I have already given.’

The disciples fail to understand the dangers of becoming as obtuse as the Pharisees. Jesus tells them, ‘Read the signs.’

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” 28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.” 30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about himNIV

We generally read this event in Matthew 16:13-20, where Jesus praises Peter and gives him the keys to Heaven. Mark, as is generally the case, has a shorter version. Mark’s Gospel is half the length of Matthew and Luke. Ninety percent of Mark’s accounts appear in Matthew. Mark’s Gospel fits on a standard half scroll, making it popular with early churches because it was cheaper. While the early church decided to list Matthew first, few modern scholars agree.

What that means for the account of Peter calling Jesus Messiah, is that Mark could have included the additional statements, but he had to fit the scroll. Think of Mark as the condensed version. We used to say the Reader’s Digest Condensed version when the magazine sold over 16 million copies instead of the 60,000 today.

Peter gets the credit, but it is likely that others were getting the same feeling. Peter was outspoken and willing to stick his neck out while the others were willing to let him. Don’t forget that just three verses later in Matthew, Jesus said to Peter; “Get behind me, Satan!”

Mark includes the exchange.

31-33 And he began to teach them that it was inevitable that the Son of Man should go through much suffering and be utterly repudiated by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He told them all this quite bluntly. This made Peter draw him on one side and take him to task about what he had said. But Jesus turned and faced his disciples and rebuked Peter. “Out of my way, Satan!” he said. “Peter, you are not looking at things from God’s point of view, but from man’s!” Phillips

Notice first that Jesus accepts the title of Messiah, but never uses it himself. He mostly called himself the Son of Man, likely to stress his humanity. Had he not done that we might never have heard of him because he would have been taken as just another god. Jesus lived on earth as a man, not as God. He accepted being the Messiah, the Chosen One, but he insisted that he was a man. He never denied that he had a close relationship with God the Father. In fact, we can call it a perfect relationship.

Peter had no idea what it meant to be the Chosen One, he just believed Jesus was the Messiah. When Jesus began to tell his disciples (not the crowds) that he would suffer, Peter could not stand the idea and let his outspokenness get him into trouble.

I like Mark’s version of Jesus rebuking Peter. We see Jesus turning his back on Peter and saying to the other disciples, ‘Peter, you are a Satan.’ We are also prone to ‘get it wrong.’ Many in the past centuries have distorted the Gospel beyond recognition and many of us today do as well. It is a challenge to follow a person who was not willing to fight for his own life, to carry the battle to his enemies. Turn the other cheek? You must be joking.

Still, the words of Peter stand as the ultimate statement that all Christians should be able to agree with; “You are the Messiah.”

34 Then Jesus called the crowd, along with his disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me and because of the gospel will save it. 36 For what benefit is it for a person to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his life? 37 What can a person give in exchange for his life? 38 For if anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of him when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” NET

Jesus speaks to the crowd, including you and me. To follow Jesus, our Master, we must deny self. We can disagree about what he meant about taking up the cross, but we cannot misconstrue the notion of denial. We have no record of Jesus being self-centered. He first listened to God, then did what God wanted him to do. He also never complained, even when he was praying to God about his instructions to die in a few hours.

We Americans do not believe in denial. In the 1990s, China’s hottest selling book was, To Get Rich is Glorious. It could have sold well in the US. We—including we Christians—follow the thinking of the farmer in Luke 12.

16-21 Then he gave them a parable in these words, “Once upon a time a rich man’s farmland produced heavy crops. So he said to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have no room to store this harvest of mine?’ Then he said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns and build bigger ones where I can store all my grain and my goods and I can say to my soul, Soul, you have plenty of good things stored up there for years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and have a good time!’ But God said to him, ‘You fool, this very night you will be asked for your soul! Then, who is going to possess all that you have prepared?’ That is what happens to the man who hoards things for himself and is not rich where God is concerned. Phillips

We live now in the decadent age of the American Empire where we worship gladiators—football, basketball, baseball, hockey, Olympics, movie and music stars—we seek fun, hang the expense; we believe we are God’s gift to the world—and it’s savior.

None of that is found in the Gospels.

Jesus did not just decide one day to tell his disciples that death was to be his future. He told them because God said it is time to get them ready. They will not believe you and you will have to say it over and over, but now is the time to start.

And so, Jesus must tell us over and over to give up being selfish. Share from our wealth, and perhaps from our poverty.

Be righteous and do good.

Mike Lawrence