Mark 9:30-37 (CEV)
Jesus Again Speaks about His Death
Jesus left with his disciples and started through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know about it, because he was teaching the disciples that the Son of Man would be handed over to people who would kill him. But three days later he would rise to life. The disciples did not understand what Jesus meant, and they were afraid to ask.
Who Is the Greatest?
Jesus and his disciples went to his home in Capernaum. After they were inside the house, Jesus asked them, “What were you arguing about along the way?” They had been arguing about which one of them was the greatest, and so they did not answer.
After Jesus sat down and told the twelve disciples to gather around him, he said, “If you want the place of honour, you must become a slave and serve others!”
Then Jesus had a child stand near him. He put his arm around the child and said, “When you welcome even a child because of me, you welcome me. And when you welcome me, you welcome the one who sent me.”
Many years ago, usually at family gatherings designed for some kind of celebration (weddings, christmas dinner, birthday meals out, etc…) my inlaws would take the opportunity to check that we had understood that in the event of their deaths they wanted their bodies to be donated for the the advancement of medical science. We had to look into it, so we knew what we would be dealing with, and if you click on the FAQ page it tells you what bits you might expect to get back one day and how many years after death this might happen…
As you might imagine, this didn’t always bring extra jollity to the proceedings (well, OK – sometimes we MAY have made tasteless jokes over returned body parts arriving unexpectedly in the post, but you get the picture!)
I guess that Jesus going on about his impending painful and bloody death would have had very much the same effect on the Disciples. Mark tells us that they didn’t really grasp what Jesus was on about, and they were afraid to ask.
Afraid to ask?
Why were they afraid to ask?
Were they afraid to ask because they just knew that their questions would set him off going on about it again, and they were (frankly) bored of him going on about it? (We all know people in whose company it advisable never to raise particular subjects, don’t we?)
Were they afraid to ask because they thought Jesus would yell at them or attack them out of sheer frustration at their ongoing failure to grasp pretty much anything he ever said to them?
Were they afraid to ask because none of them wanted to be the one to ask for fear that all the other disciples might know and they would risk looking stupid in front of the others?
no, no and, indeed, no. (or perhaps no, no and maybe a bit?)
So, why were they afraid to ask?
Here’s what I think FWIW. We don’t really know to what extent the disciples left EVERYTHING to follow Jesus – they didn’t “burn their boats” completely – indeed, after Jesus’ death we read that they went back to fishing and they still had access to boats as they ferried Jesus across the sea of Galilee! But whatever the extent of that dropping of nets, they had certainly staked a lot on this journey. People often fancifully say that they were all overexcited by the prospect of Jesus overthrowing Rome and delivering the People of Israel to the kind of liberation that they had all read about in the Exodus from Egypt. I think sometimes we are prone to exaggerating just to what extent people really believed Jesus was going to achieve that. I’m not saying the hope wasn’t still alive, just that I doubt it filled them with imminent expectation every day they got up and got on the road with Jesus. So they had staked a lot on an uncertain future and now Jesus is talking about it all ending soon with his violent death. I think they were afraid to ask because that’s not what they wanted to hear. Not that they were bored of hearing it, or worried they might not understand it – but afraid of hearing what they already knew in their hearts spelled out in words – as if Jesus saying it out loud forced them to accept what this journey they were on was all about and what it would cost them. It is often said that people won’t visit the doctor because they are afraid that the doctor will tell them what they already know – but the doctor saying it out loud will somehow make it more real and they won’t be able to pretend it isn’t happening anymore… I think that’s what’s going on here. This is serious stuff. No wonder they get into stupid, childish, top-trumps arguments about who the best disciple is… anything to move the conversation to something lighter, something less demanding of their commitment… and aren’t churches prone to exactly the same thing? PS for those who are interested in top-trump disciple games, there was a thing once upon a time called “bibliocards” – which was exactly that – top trumps with biblical characters. One of the characters was God and one was Jesus – you’ve got to be confident of a win with them in your hand! (Satan was in there too IIRC!) here they are!