As you prepare to preach the Word of the Lord this week, I want to share a little piece from this week’s Pulpit Resource. For some time now, I have written this weekly resource to help encourage, support, and enable the work of preachers like you, tasked with the awesome burden of proclaiming the Gospel.
I hope this helps you with this week’s text, as I work with the lectionary’s assigned Gospel Reading from Mark’s Gospel. If you would like to receive Pulpit Resource regularly as a part of your preparations, you can subscribe HERE.
As always, your partner in ministry,
“Are there any questions?” asked the professor at the end of his totally incomprehensible, turgid, opaque lecture.
Questions? Where on earth do we begin? I thought to myself.
There were no questions, I assume because nobody understood enough of the professor’s lecture even to ask a question about it!
Have you ever been in that situation?
Besides, it not only takes some modicum of understanding to ask a question of a teacher but it takes courage as well. Who wants to look dumb in front of the whole class? Have you ever been in a situation where you do venture a question only to have everyone else in the class laugh at your silly, stupid question to which everybody else, it appears, already knows the obvious answer?
It’s particularly galling when the teacher says, “Now what I’m going to explain to you is so obvious, so easy to understand, that anybody, no matter how thick-headed, can get it. I hesitate even to take valuable class time to explain so obvious and self-evident a solution.”
You think I would ask a question then and reveal to everybody my thick-headedness?
It takes a great deal of security to ask for help in understanding. To ask a question is to admit that we do not get it, that there is some sort of gap between what we are attempting to understand and our actual understanding.
Children seem to arrive among us with questions. Where did I come from? Where do butterflies go in the winter? How long before Christmas?
Sadly, as children grow older their questions get smaller. Eventually, children learn to be careful in asking questions. They don’t want to look stupid.
Once again Jesus turns to his disciples and asks a fateful question, “Who do you say that I am?” When you think about it, that’s the most important question. Perhaps that’s the question you ask when you come to church, or either the question Jesus asks you, “Who is Jesus?” What does he mean for us? What does Jesus mean for you?
Once again, Jesus attempts to teach his disciples that the “Son of Man” (that’s the designation that Jesus takes from out of the Old Testament and applies it to himself) must be betrayed, and suffer, and die. The Son of Man was a sort of divine-human figure who would initiate a new age, bring in God’s reign, and establish God’s rule in the world.
In order to do all of that, the Son of Man would need to be a cosmic, powerful person. Thus when Jesus begins to teach his disciples that the Son of man must be betrayed, and suffer, and die, well it’s quite a jolt.
Mark told us upfront, in the first verses of this gospel, that he is presenting to us Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God. And we, like the disciples, thought we knew what that meant. Jesus is coming to fix what’s wrong with our world. Jesus is the answer to all of our problems. Jesus is the fulfillment of our hearts’ desire.
It’s a jolt to our expectations of Jesus to be told that this Messiah, this Son of Man, must be betrayed, and suffer, and die. A suffering Son of Man? It’s unthinkable.
“The disciples did not understand what he was saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (v. 32). Why were they afraid to ask? Perhaps they were afraid because the last time in Mark’s gospel, when Peter tried to answer Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus rebuked Peter for his response.
Or maybe they are afraid to ask because they fear what Jesus would say to them – I am not a wonder worker, a solution to all of your problems; I am the suffering servant, the one who will be rejected by the world, the one who will be cursed and killed by the powers that be.
So they did not ask him anything because they were afraid. I hope that you won’t be afraid to ask Jesus, the one who asks, “Who do you say that I am?” the earnest question, “Who are you? Who are you for the salvation of the world? Who are you for me?”
Many have noted that in Mark’s gospel, the gospel we have been reading throughout this year, the disciples don’t come out very well. They come across as misunderstanding, uncomprehending knuckleheads who never, ever get the point. They have been wrong about Jesus so often that now they are afraid even to ask a question.
And yet, if you are a person full of questions, then this is the gospel for you! The disciples in Mark are not there as examples for the rest of us, role models for us to emulate. They are there (I believe) to encourage us. It’s encouraging to know that, from the beginning, the people who were closest to Jesus had questions. They had difficulty getting the point, figuring out who Jesus was and what he expected of them. Though Jesus asked them before, “Who do you say that I am?” they must have asked him dozens of times, “Who are you?”
It’s fine if you are here this morning thinking, I’m committed to the way of Christ. I’m familiar with scripture and I believe that Jesus is my personal savior.
But this morning’s scripture encourages those of you who are here this morning thinking, This is all very confusing. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, who is the God that he is? What has being a disciple of Jesus Christ gotten me into? I can’t believe that I’ve been following Jesus most of my life and there are still great gaps in my understanding.
I think Mark’s gospel wants to tell us not, “Try to be like Jesus’ first disciples,” but rather Mark says, “Try to be better than Jesus’ first disciples. Don’t fear your questions and don’t fear asking for answers from Jesus.”
So go ahead. Don’t be afraid to ask your deepest questions. Jesus will not reject you for your questions any more than Jesus rejected his first disciples for their fear to ask questions. Go ahead, bring your doubts and your questions to church, lay open your heart to Jesus. Ask. He will not forsake you because of your questions.
You have nothing to fear from the one who loves you and has called you to be his disciple. Go ahead, don’t be afraid to ask.