I Don’t Understand

by | Sep 19, 2021 | Sermons

I Don’t Understand

Mark’s gospel picks up on the same themes this week as we addressed last week. Primarily this comes down to the variety of ways the disciples simply didn’t understand what Jesus was trying to teach. 

Scripture: Mark 9: 30-37

Jesus explains something, the disciples ask questions or don’t get it, Jesus explains it again in simpler language. I have to think that Jesus was perhaps the most patient individual around. Time after time he explains about what must happen to the Son of Man, or what the Kingdom of God will be like, and the disciples don’t get it. So, time after time Jesus explains it again and what is clear is that the disciples still don’t get it.

If you don’t believe me then take a look at last week’s passage from Mark and then compare it to this week’s passage. The themes from last week reoccur for us here today.

  • Jesus predicts his betrayal, murder, and resurrection.
  • The disciples don’t understand.
  • In explaining it to the disciples Jesus makes a startling statement about discipleship.

Time after time, this is the pattern. Now, there is no doubt, discipleship is hard and Mark’s gospel really seems to focus on this point. Or perhaps it’s as Clifton Black says, “In this [Mark’s] Gospel Jesus’ closest followers are so dense that light bends around them.” (Clifton Black)

Now maybe Mark, the gospel writer, needs them to be dense in order to make his point about Jesus. Let’s be honest, many of these points that the gospels try to make about Jesus we are still struggling to understand.

However, Mark makes it clear the disciples did not understand, and they were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant. Then later when Jesus asks them what they were arguing about, which was their inability to understand what he was teaching, they were silent.

  • They did not understand.
  • They were afraid to ask.
  • They were silent.

This is the group that Jesus trusted to take his message of salvation to the world.

  • They did not understand.
  • They were afraid to ask.
  • They were silent.

When have you been silent before God?

Have you ever been afraid to ask?

Have you ever thought to yourself, I don’t understand.

Whether these questions come about questions of God or something else happening in your life, we have all at various points in our life asked these same questions.

When it comes to the mysteries of faith and the workings of God, I find myself asking them a lot. It’s one thing to get up here, to stand behind this pulpit each week and speak as if I know what I’m saying. And in some of those things I do and I believe I’m right. The walk of Christian discipleship is a journey, it is not an ‘are we there yet moment.’

I feel confident saying that because there is so much I don’t understand. There have been too many times I was afraid to ask a question and I have stood silently by far to often in life. And so in knowing these things, I know there is much to learn at the feet of Jesus. I’m not so different from the disciples, my mind reels as to why Jesus had to die. Was it really to save me, save me from what? My own sinful nature and broken relationships?

This week I was reading about Original Sin and how this doctrine was theologically constructed. Only one opinion to be sure, but it was interesting. God doesn’t curse humanity in the story of Genesis in the Garden of Eden. God curses the ground and the serpent, but not humanity. Yes, humanity is cast out of the garden, but God still provided for us even while sending us out of the garden.

So why the betrayal, why the death, why the resurrection?

I find myself at times just as stumped as the disciples.

Then Jesus says, whoever wants to be first, must be last and servant of all. Demonstrating that he knew what they were arguing about, who would be greatest. Their silence spoke of their shame, these disciples who don’t understand yet seek greatness.

Then Jesus takes a child and we like to romanticise this passage, but I’m not sure we should. The words in Greek used for child here can also be used for ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ (Clifton Black). Jesus takes a child and puts the child amongst them and says whoever welcomes the child in my name, welcomes me and in turn welcomes the one who sent me.

And what do we do? We develop Sunday school programming.

Think it through, think through this passage. What Jesus says about his betrayal, death and resurrection. The lack of understanding by the disciples. When Jesus goes to illustrate the point he uses a child and the church hears the message we need to be welcoming to children.

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating that we not be welcoming to children. However, the message is broader than that and having a good Sunday school is not the point of this passage.

So why do we do it? Because we don’t understand.

We need to think through what Jesus was trying to communicate to the disciples, not simply that we should impart our faith onto our children. We need to take a step back from the immediacy of Jesus making the point about the child and look at this passage as a whole and then see how it fits into Mark’s gospel.

Children are innocent and pure.

Jesus came, was born into the world as we all were, as a child.

We often refer to Jesus as the suffering servant, in light of his death on the cross.

Jesus had just, once again, told the disciples how he was to be betrayed, killed, and would rise again.

Jesus is trying to teach that the ruling religious elite, with their strict adherence to rules was missing the point. Otherwise, why all the teaching about Sabbath? Jesus was trying to demonstrate that it wasn’t about power and control, but service and humility. Otherwise, why heal the poor and the lame? Those who exist on the margins of society.

Jesus takes a child, analogous with a servant, someone who has no power, no standing within society and says welcome this one as you would welcome me. A man, a rabbi, someone who represents the establishment and the patriarchal world view which was dominate at the time. Welcome this child as you would welcome me, and you’ll finally get it.

That’s radical. You just don’t do that. We still don’t do that. And it isn’t just about children, they are just the example used. It’s about how we welcome all people and how we care for all people.

And we wonder why the disciples didn’t understand. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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