Just as Peter did a few days ago, when he rebuked Jesus for talking of his coming death, the disciples in this reading are again confused and disarmed by Jesus’ frank talk of his necessary fate. I understand their befuddlement. It is hard to hear that the one you left everything for – nets, families, familiarity – is headed for what most would consider a failure. Even his promise that he will rise in three days has no reference in their experience.
What’s interesting is their response.
Instead of facing the uncertainty and asking Jesus to explain himself, they simply ignore the part they don’t understand and don’t want to hear and busy themselves with…arguing about which one of them is most important! Delicious irony. Their dreams of high regard are a way of not dealing with the fact that Jesus, the one who actually is the greatest, must cast all that aside in order to fulfill his purpose. No wonder they were silent when Jesus asked them what they had been talking about.
It is easy for us to get caught up in this same trap, to focus on God’s power and Jesus’ glorification and to assume that we will be rewarded with what the world will call success. But this ignores what Luther called the theology of the cross and what Richard Rohr calls the language of descent. If God chooses to show power veiled by what our culture views as weak, who are we to think that we are rewarded more than we must empty ourselves?
Jesus’ response is to gently bring them back to kingdom reality. It requires a mind shift – the back of the line is really the front, and the place to lead from is under the heap, not on top. How we honor God depends not on how we defer to power but how we welcome and honor the weak and defenseless. This is not a perspective our natural minds, steeped in a culture of strength and privilege, comes to on its own. But stopping to listen to Jesus in a loving relationship, and being bold enough to express our questions and doubts, can open us up to this bigger picture.