Afraid to Ask, Pastor Fred
Last week we talked about the turning point that chapter 8 is in Mark’s gospel. Geographically, it’s the mid-way point for Jesus and his disciples going from Galilee in the north of Israel, to his final journey going south to the region of Judea and finally to Jerusalem, which would be his last or Passion week.
‘Who do people say that I am,’ and, ’who do you say that I am,’ Jesus asked? And Peter – inspired – comes up with the title of ‘Messiah’ for Jesus, though Jesus likes to refer to himself as ‘the Son of Man,’ and began to teach the 12 about what it means to be the long-expected Messiah, the Son of Man, the Human One.
At this turning point, Jesus delivers the first of, three, Passion Predictions in Mark’s gospel. All very similar – one in chapter 8, one in chapter 9, and the last in chapter 10. After each of the 3 descriptions of his ‘suffering, death and resurrection,’ the disciples demonstrate that they have not yet understood what this means, because it’s so far from what they, and everyone else, expected.
So today, we hear the 2nd Passion prediction. (In case you’re wondering, our Lectionary will not cover the 3rd one, before this, Year of Mark, ends in November.) This is it!
Mark sets the scene by telling us, Jesus does not want anyone to know he and his disciples are passing through Galilee, so that he can teach the 12 about the Passion. But seeing how Galilee was his home base, that would have been very difficult to do – especially in the major fishing village of Capernaum where Peter is from. There, Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, and he became so popular, people had continually streamed in to find healing for themselves, or their loved ones, ever since. And not only in Capernaum, but all the surrounding towns. And Jesus’ only respite is on a boat in the Sea of Galilee!
So, to deliver this 2nd Passion prediction, Jesus tells his 12 disciples as they’re walking from one town to the next, pulling them away from the crowds to tell them alone: “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.”
That’s how Jesus states the 2nd Passion Prediction here in chapter 9 in our reading today. “But they,” the disciples, “did not understand what he was saying,” says Mark. “And (they) were afraid to ask him.”
It kind of stops me in my tracks, when I hear that – that ‘they were afraid to ask Jesus any questions!’ Like each of the 3 Passion predictions, his disciples don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. And so, they move on, they deflect, they get angry, they get dejected, or they ignore – but mostly they don’t understand, and they are afraid – afraid to ask Jesus what he means!
After this 2nd Passion prediction, the disciples argue. They turn to arguing amongst themselves about, who was the greatest. Apparently, they thought, if Jesus was going to die, one of them would be taking over the glory and the power of the Messianic era, about to be born. Because, like everybody else, they thought, for Jesus to be Messiah, he would also be the king, the anointed one of God, the enthroned ruler in the Temple, and military leader who would overcome the tyranny of Roman rule, in their ‘holy’ land. And if Jesus was going to die, it would then fall, to one of them, to carry on this new age of God’s rule in Israel.
No one, not even his disciples, understood what kind of Messiah, Jesus had come to be. That for starters, to be great you must be servant of all. No one yet knew what God was up to, in this moment of history. They did not understand what Jesus was saying. They were afraid to ask (him).
Do we understand? If we do, how did the church get it so wrong for so long? …all throughout the Constantinian church, the years the Church made itself into an institution led by a conquering victorious Christ? …right up to our lifetimes, in many ways? Do we understand what it means ‘to lose our life for the sake of the gospel, in order to gain it!’ Or, ‘whoever wants to be a great leader, doesn’t do it by lording it over others, but by being servant of all?!’ …and ‘whoever welcomes one such child, (that I’m cradling in my arms), in my name,’ as Jesus said, ‘welcomes me…’
Do we ever fail to ask questions when we don’t understand? Are we afraid?
Research shows, in an upcoming issue of the journal, Management Science, that many people are afraid to ask for advice, because they fear they will look incompetent. But the researchers discovered that, we’ve actually got it backwards. That actually, people who seek advice, are likely to be thought of as more competent, by all of us who sit on the sidelines, not asking.
Men, are notoriously afraid to stop and ask for directions when they’re lost on the road. Kids, are afraid to ask questions in class, because, no one wants to be the one to look dumb. When we see a person we just recently met, and can’t remember their name, we’re embarrassed to ask!
I was afraid to ask questions in my youth, not only in school, but even at home! Partly I think I lived in a wonderfully protective cocoon of good parenting, and a supportive community and church, so I felt I could trust what people told me. What was there to question? Trusting your friends and neighbors demonstrated good manners and respect for the connection you had with them. Why rock the boat?
Yet, authorities then and now continue to take advantage of good and well-meaning people. Then, it was lies about the war in Indo-China, lies about an equal playing field for people of color, and lies about equality for women. Which meant, countless lives were ruined, and changed forever, while those in authority, those we trusted, they thrived, because their misdeeds were often unchallenged – unquestioned.
Unfortunately, even raising good questions, does not mean you will be safe when you do so. As James says in our 2nd reading today, our disagreements and quarrels among ourselves, often stem from arguing about, or coveting things, our neighbor has. The answers we get when we ask good questions, even, and especially, when it brings out the truth, can bring enormous pain. And then on top of that, people who should know better, dig in, to cover up the truth.
Cheryl O’Connor, who lives in Bethesda, MD, hadn’t planned on telling her teenage daughters about that night during high school, decades ago, when she was sexually assaulted. But then Dr. Christine Blasey (Ford) told her story about a house party, at almost the same time, and a nearby place, in the now very public story involving the current nominee to the Supreme Court. O’Connor, who also went to an all-girls prep school, wanted her daughter to be able to ask questions and know the truth. Back then we “didn’t think it was a crime,” O’Connor said. “We weren’t taught that.” Now, she wants her daughter to know the difference, because, even though people are beginning to ask the right questions in this #MeToo environment, her daughter is still at risk, until we are given a safe place to ask the questions that will help us come to a common understanding.
Another recent grad of the H.S., Beverly, said, “She saw the way in which people dismissed Dr. Blasey Ford’s story, questioning its accuracy. “What if I speak out and that’s the reaction I get,” she asked?
Jesus knew that telling and exposing the truth about the corruption of the highest leaders, would be a leading cause, in his suffering and death. He wants us, to know that! – warning three times in stark language about his Passion: his suffering, death, and resurrection, for the life of the world. He is as clear as he can be, even if it means his own disciples don’t want to hear it, or ask the right questions!
Who is the Messiah? Who is the Son of Man, the Human One? Who is Jesus for us today? Why does Jesus ‘death and resurrection’ change our normal expectations of how the world works? Are we courageous and clear-headed about the Passion of our Lord? When will we be safe to ask these questions? Are we ready to ask the right questions that will help us to understand?
And finally, Do we know, that Jesus loves us, even as he leads us on the Way from Galilee to Jerusalem? …And with him, as Disciples and followers, that nothing can harm us?