The Second Prediction of the Passion
30 They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it.31He was teaching his disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death he will rise.”32But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
IV. THE FULL REVELATION OF THE MYSTERY
The Greatest in the Kingdom
33They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”34But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.35Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”36Taking a child he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it he said to them,37“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, James 3:16-4:3
Jesus and his disciples return through Galilee to their home village of Capernaum. The events at Caesarea Philippi and the Transfiguration are in the rear view and Jesus does his best to avoid areas where he might attract large crowds. On the way home Jesus issues his second “passion prediction.” The first was delivered to shocked disciples in Caesarea Philippi. Now Jesus reminds them that the Son of Man (the self-referential title Jesus uses to reveal that he is the Messiah) will soon be handed over to men who will kill him. He continues to assure them that after three days in the tomb he will rise again. The disciples hear Jesus speak but do not understand this difficult saying, most notably the part about rising after being dead for three days. They are confident that they will be with him and so can protect him if needed. I think their silence here speaks volumes about their personal intent to protect Jesus from this point on.
Jesus and company enter the home of Andrew and Peter, which has been his ministry headquarters since his rejection in Nazareth two years earlier. In the privacy of that home, Jesus asks a direct question. “What were you arguing about on the way here?” There is no response. Jesus knows that some in the group had been arguing about who among them Jesus considered to be the greatest. Who was the most favored by the Lord?
I believe that Jesus directs this question specifically to the apostles Peter, James, and John. These three had just shared the experience of the Transfiguration. On the slopes of Mt. Hermon they had witnessed Jesus in his divine glory. They overheard his conversation with Moses and Elijah about the way that he would leave Jerusalem, his personal exodus event. Jesus had sworn these three to secrecy. They were not to speak about this experience with anyone else until Jesus had risen from the grave. It is easy to imagine that each wonders who, among the three, is most favored by Jesus. Jesus is clever here. He answers his own question as he places a young child in their midst, teaching his gathered disciples that whoever receives a child like this, in his name, receives not only Jesus himself but also the Father who sent him.
Is there another hint given by the use of the child as a prop? That child would be the youngest male in the room, so Jesus may be using him to suggest that John, the youngest of the apostles, is most favored by Jesus. Tradition identifies John with the disciple “whom Jesus loved.” He will sit in the most intimate position at the Last Supper (John 13:23). It will be to him that Jesus gives the care of his mother. John will be the only apostle to die of natural causes at the end of a long life of service to the Lord and the church. Read beyond the end of our Gospel selection this week and you will see that it is John who is emboldened to speak, and he does so without fear of reprisal. He says that he and his brother James had rebuked a man for driving out demons because he was not part of their group. Rather than castigating John (compare John 9:38–41 with what Jesus says to Peter in Mark 8:33, “Get behind me, Satan!”), Jesus gently corrects him as a teacher might correct a favorite student. This special relationship between Jesus and John will continue to grow as the Gospel narrative moves toward Jerusalem and the events of the passion. John will be with Jesus every step of the way.
Sometimes we hear what we want to hear and miss the message of the actual words. In this passage the apostles do not want to “hear” the passion predictions of Jesus. They want no part in this narrative anticipating arrest, suffering, death, burial, and then resurrection. Jesus explains clearly what awaits him in Jerusalem, but the apostles have “selective hearing” in reacting to this information. Their response is similar to our own when we hear news we don’t want to process. They do not understand, but they fear that if they ask about it they will learn more than they can handle.
We can experience selective hearing too, especially when we come across the more difficult sayings of Jesus or struggle with things like the violence in the Old Testament. We don’t understand and may be afraid to ask God. But questions are good and to be encouraged. The Hebrew Bible introduces us to characters who ask difficult questions. To characters who argue with God and engage God in protracted dialogue. Abraham questions God about how many righteous people God needs to find in Sodom to avoid destroying the city (Genesis 18:16-32). Moses challenges God with questions about God’s intent to abandon his people after the Golden Calf incident and start over again with Moses (Exodus 32:9-14). Even Mary, the mother of Jesus, argues with Jesus about the need for more wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:3-5). If you want to question God, go for it. You are in good company. Give it a try and see how your relationship with God grows this week.
Psalm 116:12 contains a wonderful question: “What can I offer the Lord for all that he has done for me?” This question will be the core of our prayer this week.
“What can I offer, Lord?” Show me the need and place me in a position to respond to that need with the same gentleness and compassion that you would offer in the same situation. Let my heart and my hands be yours in service this week.
Who was the greatest? That was the topic of the argument on the way home. Jesus says the greatest will be the last, the servant of all, and he will demonstrate what he means by this teaching at the Last Supper when he rises from the table, takes a bowl of water and a towel and surprises the gathered disciples again by washing their feet (see John 13:1-20). He will demonstrate what it means to be “servant of all.” His greatness will be revealed in humble service to others—service that is unexpected and unsolicited. Jesus serves those who are not aware that they need to be served.
We can participate in this same spiritual greatness when we open ourselves to opportunities to serve others in our family, in our church, in our local community, and in the larger world. Follow the example of Jesus this week and serve in some unexpected way.