The disciples fail to ask tough questions. Jesus predicts his passion. The disciples fail to understand it. And Jesus gives the disciples further teaching. We are talking about Mark 9:30-37, where Jesus reveals his identity and demonstrates kingdom behaviors.
Jesus’ saying: If any man wants to be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all.” The disciples don’t get it. The disciples don’t comprehend and at the same time, they are afraid to ask its means. When Jesus calls to receive a little child, the disciples are shocked, but they don’t have the courage to ask what it means.
Jesus is no ordinary rabbi, and the disciples are completely confused. What comes before and after this passage is healing the blind. And the disciples remain blind to Jesus’ mission and identity.
The disciples lack the understanding
The disciples lack the understanding to comprehend that Jesus will suffer, die and rise. Instead, the disciples are caught up in the power struggle as to who is the greatest from amongst them. They are unwilling to ask hard questions. They are still wondering: how can the son of God suffer and die? The disciples don’t have the guts to ask for clarifications from Jesus. They are afraid to look uninformed, confused, and clueless. Like the disciples, are you afraid to ask hard questions?
What happens when you avoid hard questions?
The disciples are afraid to ask hard questions. But they argue with each other on petty issues, who is right, and who is the greatest among them. It can happen even in your church community – avoid asking tough questions like the disciples and deliberate on petty issues.
The good news is that Jesus welcomes everyone, even those who do not understand. The gospel text ends with Jesus embracing a child – a symbol of not knowing, not understanding, but of curiosity in the presence of the one who they love.
Jesus embracing a child – a symbol of not knowing, not understanding, but of curiosity in the presence of the one who they love.
The disciples should have known Jesus’ identity after the calming of the storm, causing them to ask, “Who then is this?” (Mark 4:41), when a demon knows Jesus’ identity (Mark 5:7) and the three disciples after Jesus’ transfiguration.
Understand the disciples’ fear for not asking questions?
Fear stops the disciples from asking questions. In Mark’s gospel, fear is the opposite of faith. After calming the storm, Jesus asks the disciples: Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith? (Mark 4:40). Jesus says to Jairus: Do not fear; have faith (Mark 5:36). The response of the disciples is fear when Jesus reveals his passion, death, and resurrection.
Even though Jesus speaks plainly, the disciples do not understand. There is a gulf between their expectations and Jesus’ predictions. They are afraid that Jesus may rebuke, as he did to Peter when Jesus said: Get behind me, Satan.
Jesus’ example of receiving a child
Although the disciples are constantly ignorant and afraid, Jesus gives insight into what the kingdom of God is like – the reception of a child. The kingdom of God was mainly a reversal of popular notions. In the ancient world, people had a strong sense of honor and shame — the rich and powerful preferred association with the others who had the honor in the society. The rich and powerful would intentionally insult those who were poor and vulnerable. But in the kingdom of God, those who are honored are the least – the servants. The kingdom of God assesses things differently – God receives those who receive the child.
Jesus’ gesture must have disturbed the disciples’ notions. In the ancient world, children have so little status—ranking somewhere between women and slaves. But Matthew says Jesus calls the disciples to “become as little children” (Matthew 18:3), and in Mark’s account, Jesus calls the disciples to receive the child.
Jesus wants to welcome people of less honor into the inner circle. It involves affection, caring, feeding, and housing for those which societies will not welcome. Jesus established a link between God and the child, saying whoever welcomes a little child, welcomes the one who has sent me.
A child is a symbol for anyone in need, helpless, or of lowly status.
Understand Jesus’ saying about Servanthood
How to understand Jesus’ saying: If any man wants to be first, he shall be last and servant of all? Servant means last, lowest, or least. Servanthood is a humble position. The Kingdom of God story is about reversal – the last hired becomes the first to be paid (Matthew 20:1-16), and the beatitude is also about reversal (Matthew 5:1-12). The disciples could not imagine Jesus could save the world by dying on the cross. Jesus is directing every ambition to serve others rather than oneself just as a servant spends time taking care of others.
About the Author
Feroz Fernandes, a Catholic Missionary, identifies himself as an Uncommon Priest. Father Feroz loves adventure in the apostolate. Check out his debut book The Uncommon Priest: Incredible Stories You Never Read on amazon. And also, the YouTube Channel: Feroz Fernandes promotes a better understanding of scripture.