Three times, the disciples of Jesus had a difficult time comprehending information concerning his death and resurrection. In each case, something happened that lead to an important teaching by Jesus to the disciples. Up until announcing his death and resurrection, Jesus focused on preparing them for receiving the power of the Holy Spirit after his ascension into heaven. Jesus’ efforts were to establish a core group that could own the story of who Jesus is, what he did for them and for all creation. Therefore, it was necessary for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus to be made personal. The message needed to be taken to heart for its life-changing effects to take place.
They weren’t getting the message. According to Mark 8:30, Jesus told the disciples about his death and resurrection for the first time, just after Peter answered Jesus’ question: “Who do you say that I am?” Peter did not hesitate, but said, “You are the Christ.” Jesus praised Peter for his response as being “God inspired,” then immediately following, Jesus informed them of his impending suffering, death and resurrection. Peter took Jesus aside and stated that this could not happen. His response was to say, “Get behind me Satan!” Peter was told that he was thinking in worldly terms, not God’s. Jesus then went on to instruct them, in that, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Later, in Mark 9:30-32, Jesus told the disciples for the second time that the Son of Man will be put to death, and on the third day, he will rise again. Again, they did not understand what he was telling them and were afraid to ask. They fully expected that Jesus was going to cast out the Romans, take control, and they, the disciples, would become the henchmen of the Messiah-King. Not until Pentecost and later did they come to understand what significant role they were to play.
Jesus showed great restraint following their second lack of comprehension. He sat down and called the 12 to himself to instruct them in what their hearts must be like. “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all … anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”
Then on their way to Jerusalem, Jesus announced for the third time that he was going to be betrayed, condemned to death and rise on the third day. After hearing this again, Jesus is asked an impertinent question from two of his disciples, James and John. They ask Jesus if they can “sit at His right and left side in your glory?” Jesus tells them that they do not know what they are asking. “Those places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” Instead of chastising them for asking such a question, Jesus pulls all the apostles together, and kindly instructs them in “…instead of lording power over each other, which you will not do, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be a servant to all.”
In each of the three cases of announcing the earthly life of Jesus, the disciples failed to focus on the subject matter of the message. Instead, they turned their minds to what they wanted the message to be. In the first instance, Peter refused to accept what Jesus was saying, and instead took exception and tried to convince Jesus that he was wrong. The second time, they were informed that to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, one must be like a child, innocent and pure by intent. The third instruction is to be ambition-free. The one who wants to lead others must be the one who serves the others.
Pure hearts, pure minds and pure motives are the descriptions of those who inhabit the Kingdom of God.
Rev. Wilfred Verhoff is an associate priest at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Lewis Center.