At the transfiguration the Father had a message for the disciples and for us, ‘Listen to My beloved Son’; and what had Jesus been talking about prior to the transfiguration? That the Messiah must be rejected, suffer and be put to death, and be raised up.
After the transfiguration and the deliverance of the boy, Jesus deliberately takes the disciples away from the hurly-burly of public ministry, away from all the usual distractions, so that He could teach them something of the utmost importance.
The crucial mission of the Messiah – far above all the other parts of His mission from the Father – is to redeem the world from sin, to totally conquer evil, and the only way that can happen is through His sacrificial death as the pure and innocent Passover Lamb of God.
Soon the journey to Jerusalem, the one that will take Him to Calvary, to accomplish this crucial mission, will begin. It is imperative that He prepares His disciples for the cataclysmic events that are going to take place.
But it becomes obvious that they are either unable to listen or unwilling to engage with the topic of the necessity of suffering and of the Cross.
One reason for this is denial. Jesus is talking about truly horrific things as being a non-negotiable done deal. It is also our usual first response to bad news.
Another reason is fear. When we experience fear, the body’s fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, and the higher mental functions of reasoning are suspended.
So they don’t do their job as disciples, which is to ask questions of the teacher. Asking questions and probing a topic is how students best come to grasp and internalize that topic. And no teacher can go on to the next topic until he/she is sure that his/her students have grasped the prerequisite topics for understanding the new topic he/she wants to present to them. For example, in order to teach multiplication, you must first teach addition; before you can teach how to cook a mornay, you have to teach how to prepare a basic white sauce.
What kind of questions was Jesus expecting?
How are You feeling about that?
Is this suffering you are to undergo absolutely necessary?
Help me understand why.
Why is it necessary for the Messiah to suffer like this?
What’s the point?
How do You prepare for sufferings like that?
How do You keep sane knowing that this is coming?
How certain is this, 80%, 90%, 100%?
Does that mean suffering of that order of magnitude is in our paths too?
What do You want us to do when this begins to happen?
How can we help You as You face this?
Is it possible for us to help You in any way?
Those psalms that foretell this are quite scary, is it really going to be like that?
What is the value of rejection, suffering and death?
How should we prepare for when these days overtake us?
Teach us how to prepare for our own times of suffering and trial.
How far away are these events? When will they take place?
How do you want us to handle your burial?
Death is final. What is this event after your death that you speak of?
How will we recognise it?
What will become of us when you are gone?
Can you begin to understand how differently the disciples would have coped with His passion and death if they had asked any of these questions?
Can you begin to fathom the treasures of wisdom and understanding that were there for the asking, but were never asked for, and how much we (the whole church throughout time) would have gained if those questions had been asked?
Can you begin to grasp how frustrating it must have been for Jesus, to see His disciples not listening, and so utterly disengaged from what He is trying to teach them and prepare them for.
Despite their lack of engagement, Jesus still continued to try to prepare the disciples for the horror to come, and also tells them that the horror won’t be the end of the story. What else could He do? He had to trust that when the hour of His passion and death overtook them, that they would remember that He had told them it was going to happen, so that they might find a ray of hope that God was still in control, that this was indeed part of God’s plan, and that His death was not the end of that plan, and there’s something big to come after His death.
Fear and denial are our usual response too
‘dear God I hope that’s not true, may it never happen’.
In fact we do it regularly. We dismiss prophets as false because what they say seems so surreal eg Kenneth Hargin 1963 http://garycarpenter.org/PDF/KennethHagin1963Prophecy.pdf
We did the same with the very few prophets who said ‘pray, because there are laboratories preparing bio-weapons’ and the ones who said, ‘a pandemic is coming’.
It seemed so wild, so far from the reality at that time, so weird, so far-fetched,
and yet ultimately it was true.
Our automatic response at the time was: ‘O dear God, I hope that’s not true, may it never happen’.
It should have been
How do You want me to pray about this?
What do You want me to do about this?
What kind of preparations need to happen to minimize and/or prevent this?
I need confirmation from You to treat this as seriously as You want me to; if this is true please send me confirmation, and help me to recognise it when it comes, as coming from You.
If the disciples can’t hear the part about ‘rejection, suffering and death’, then they can’t hear the part about being raised up either. We don’t know what else Jesus wanted to reveal, because the disciples shut their minds and hearts down and refused to engage in the teaching process.
Jesus must have been so disappointed and discouraged by this. Any teacher is when his/her students just don’t get it and they actively disengage by passing notes and creating paper planes.
And this was teaching of the highest importance, the key to understanding everything else.
To make things worse, instead of spending their conversation time productively
His disciples indulge in that sad masculine pastime of ‘I’m better than you because…’
What did Jesus do?
He set Himself to do the best job of teaching them these unpalatable truths that He could.
That way He knew He had done the best He could, and He could hope that later on they might remember that He had tried to teach them about the cataclysm that was going to happen.
He could have chosen to leave them in the ignorance they preferred
but He loved them far too much to let them face the days of His passion and death without preparation.
Jesus could have walked away, the provocation was there, but He chose to persist with His apostles and disciples. This was probably in obedience to His Father, because part 1 of the messianic mission is suffering, death, resurrection and ascension and part 2 is building the foundations of the church, of the kingdom of God. Both missions had to be fulfilled.
He could also have yelled and thrown things and generally have let His frustrations out with impact, but He doesn’t.
Have you ever tried to teach something as basic as the answer to 10 times 11, and they just couldn’t get it, no matter how many times and ways you tried? That kind of frustration.
Be amazed at His self-control in this situation, at His gentleness, and at His patience.
If we are amazed at His resurrection and ascension, we should be equally amazed at the church that emerged at Pentecost from this motley bunch; and astounded that today it is still continuing His mission, albeit at some times in history much better than at other times in history.
Jesus knew what was going on, with the one-upmanship game, and He had a plan.
But it didn’t get sprung until they were behind closed doors at Capernaum, where they felt safe.
He could have given them a public scolding about being unteachable and about how one-upmanship decreases love and trust.
but He chose to do it in private, to not humiliate them publicly.
But He still got the message across that even if they thought they could hide what they were up to from Jesus, He knew the whole without being told.
He waited patiently, and took this teachable moment when the opportunity was ripe, and then whammied them with a lesson in kingdom values that they would never forget.
Humble service is the yardstick of greatness in the kingdom of God;
the exact antithesis of the world’s yardsticks of money, power, attractiveness and pleasure.
What is the challenge for us in this Gospel?
Don’t be afraid to ask Jesus questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask Jesus difficult questions.
Don’t be afraid to ask Jesus to tell you more when He shows you something that is beyond your current levels of understanding and comprehension.
If you are game, pray with me…
Dear Jesus, there is probably something in my life, or something about my future, that you have been trying to show me, and I just haven’t grasped it. I may not have even picked up on Your signals. I am truly sorry for not having been attentive enough to You. I am sorry for the many times I have not recognised the ways You have tried to gain my attention. I am sorry for the times I have said to You in my words, or by my actions, ‘oh no, I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to know that’. Please forgive me. I trust that You only want to show me things – especially when they are difficult things – to bring about greater good in my life and in the lives of others – and that You know me and love me too much to give me anything that I can’t handle (with You and Your grace to assist me). In Your goodness, please help me to recognise the messages and teaching You are so graciously offering to me. Help me to engage with You on those matters, and to courageously ask You questions about those matters, and to wait for Your answers and to act diligently upon them. Help me to believe You the first time, and to take what You say seriously. I want to be a much better student and disciple of Yours, better than I have ever been before. Amen.
Holy Mary, mother of Jesus, please intercede on my behalf for this. Amen.