Meaning of greatness: context

jesus-and-child30 They left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. 31 He 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.” 32 But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him. 33 They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34 But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. 35 Then 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.” 36 Taking 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.” Mark 9:30–37

Context. As we move further into the liturgical year, it should become evident that there are fewer demonstrations of power and teaching authority, although they will continue to occur, e.g., the healing of the boy with demon (Mark 9:19-29). The emphasis is ever on preparing his disciples for the time when Jesus will not be among them in an earthly form. The text for this Sunday is commonly referred to as Christ’s second passion/resurrection prediction.

Between the first set of prediction/instructions and our Sunday gospel we have following pericopes:

  1. The Transfiguration (9:2-8) where Peter doesn’t know what to say and the three disciples are terrified.
  2. The discussion coming down the mountain (9:9-13) where the disciples fail to understand Jesus’ comment about “rising from the dead,” yet these disciples were with Jesus when he raised a twelve-year-old girl from the dead (5:35-43) and they had just come down from the mountain where the dead (Moses and Elijah) were alive.
  3. The other disciples fail to cast out an evil spirit (9:14-29). Jesus is appalled at their faithlessness — “You faithless generation” (v. 19). But I would also draw your attention to v.24: “I believe; help my unbelief.” It is often the case that we are not either/or but rather both/and when it comes to believing or not believing. While we trust God, we fear, and that combination often leads us to misunderstanding

The return through Galilee from Caesarea Philippi to Jerusalem is not the occasion for a new mission but for instruction of the disciples. Each of the three passion predictions in this section of the Gospel is followed by instructions on discipleship and incidents that show that the disciples have not understood Jesus’ teaching, just as Peter, James, and John did not understand what resurrection meant earlier during the Transfiguration scene (9:10). [Perkins, 636]

As Stoffregen notes, each of the passion (/resurrection) predictions in Mark follows the same pattern.

25th B

This 2nd prediction alters several elements from the previous version. Instead of being rejected by the religious leaders, Jesus is to be handed over to “men.” The verb has shifted from the passive “be killed” (8:31) to the active “they will kill him” (9:31).

The disciples’ response points to a deepening separation from Jesus. Earlier, Peter had protested the first passion prediction (8:31–33), and the group, who failed to understand the meaning of resurrection, discussed it and asked Jesus whether Elijah would indeed have to come first (9:10–11). Now they are afraid to ask Jesus about the word they do not understand (v. 32). Fear plays a prominent role in the passion narrative. Fear and silence conclude the whole Gospel when the women flee from the tomb (16:8).

In any event, Jesus continues to teach (v. 31, imperfect verbs = continuous action in the past). The disciples continued to not understand (agnoeo) and continued to be afraid to ask him about his teachings (v. 32, imperfect verbs again). The other verb “to fear” (phobeomai) is used as the opposite of faith in 4:41; 5:36. It is also an emotion that the disciples frequently have: 4:41; 6:50; 10:32 (3rd passion prediction); 16:8. The three disciples are “terrified” (ekphobos — a related word) at the transfiguration (9:6). It seems discipleship is ever the ongoing process.

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One thought on “Meaning of greatness: context

  1. Fear is a very strong emotion . . . I wonder if their fear is based on the unknown aspect of their lives that is to come with Jesus and yet they are afraid to ask Christ what he meant regarding “he will rise on the third day”? Could it also be that the fear they have is of losing someone so precious to them that they can’t fathom that he will be killed? Just pondering … thank you!

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