The disciples have been following Jesus for a long time. They covered their home area, down to the Jordan, back up to Caesarea Philippi and now they are heading to Jerusalem.
But then Jesus started to get weird. He started talking about death. His death. He started talking about what is to come and I’ve got to say none of it sounds good. If I were the disciples, I’d be afraid, too.
Those Who Followed Were Afraid (Day 33 of A Simple Lent) | Friday
They are approaching Jerusalem, and Jesus has already told them that he was going to die. Twice. Peter has said that he would prevent it and was rebuked. Then Jesus predicted the Passion a second time and people were confused and were afraid to ask any questions. Now they are getting closer and they have reason to be afraid.
So what does Jesus do to calm them down? He predicts his death a third time.
Almost as if they think they are riding in to save the day, the Brothers Zebedee, James and John come along and show off their machismo. The rest of these weaklings are cowering in fear. So we’ll ride into glory with you, Commander!
They step up when nobody else will. They will face death with Jesus. Do you get what you are asking? Jesus asks. They think so. But this isn’t my choice. And you don’t get those seats of (dis)honor. Those are reserved for two others who will face death with me. Your time will be later.
I’ve always thought the Thunder Brothers were showing incredible hubris. But now I think they were showing unique enthusiasm. Not the careful zeal of Peter or the reasonable concern of Thomas. These two stepped up when everyone else was afraid.
The anger of the other disciples also seems misplaced. You were the ones who refused to ask questions before. You were the ones arguing over who was the greatest. Now you’re all cowering in fear. James and John were the only ones to step up. The only ones to take the call of this death march seriously.
But it is not so among you
While the disciples are cheesed at their own, Jesus shows pity instead, explaining what they’ve missed about leadership.
All the rulers of the world, Jesus begins to argue, lead like tyrants. Above, dictatorial. But not you. You lead from the bottom. You lead by serving.
If we remember all that they have learned from Jesus, all that Jesus has shared with them, they would see that these moments: the Passion predictions, the transfiguration, the healings, the parables, the opportunities to go out and serve: the disciples have been embodying a different kind of leadership and learning about a different kind of kingdom which is predicated on a different kind of leadership. The disciples aren’t supposed to be like the worldly rulers.
Their juvenile outbursts and moments of confusion are not representative of how Jesus sees the disciples. He sees them as different already, as following Jesus better than anyone could expect. These are different disciples!
And for as much as I want to read this as a rebuke (I always have), I see it as encouragement. These disciples who followed were afraid and two stood up to say they weren’t. And when the disciples try to tear down their own for questioning authority, Jesus says to them:
But it is not so among you
because they are different already. The way of the world is not their way, now.
Is it so among us?
Following Jesus Afraid
These moments of disciples behaving badly are among my favorite moments in the gospels. And the gospel of Mark is particularly tough on them. Many believe this is a Markan theme: that the author is trying to make the disciples look bad. Why?
So that we have a way into the story.
The disciples aren’t perfect. In fact, they can be really, really wrong. They certainly aren’t portrayed as the sharpest knives in the drawer. But if we remember where they come from, we acknowledge their lowly status: fishermen. Not the kind who would ordinarily study with a rabbi.
Certainly not the elite who the Messiah seeking to take over the world would recruit. He’d look at Harvard and West Point.
But this Messiah is bringing an upside down kingdom with those who would be its native leaders: those from the bottom.
If you ask me about following Jesus in my life; if I am to take up my cross and follow him where he is going, I’m afraid too. I’m thinking Jesus has the wrong guy. There’s someone smarter than I. Someone better read than I. Someone more devoted than I. Someone better trained than I. Someone more charismatic than I. Someone with better social skills. Someone with more wisdom and concern and commitment. Someone far more qualified to lead in the kingdom than I am.
But Jesus doesn’t ask the best. He asks us. And he says that this kingdom is not like this world! Hear me! It is topsy-turvy! The powerful are useless to GOD. They only mess things up. They start wars. They order people around. They ruin the good thing GOD is trying to do. GOD doesn’t need that for the kingdom. GOD needs you.
And those of us humbly following Jesus with hope or wondering how we ever really got here and wondering what is really supposed to happen when we get to Jerusalem or starting to freak out because following Jesus is hard and we’re starting to get worried: we have a right to be afraid. This stuff is hard!
But GOD needs us. As we are. To raise up the kingdom from the bottom, not the top; through service, not through ruling; through hope, not through conflict. GOD needs us to follow. Because that’s where the kingdom’s real leaders are.
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