Thursday, September 17, 2015

Afraid of What?


Sometimes scripture lessons contain little lines that mean a great deal but escape my notice because they are not central to the passage. Perhaps, after I've preached on the lectionary texts long enough to mine every decent story or point of analysis I can muster, I'll turn my focus to these little throw-aways, but, for now, they seem mostly hidden.

This week, when we read Mark 9:30-37, we'll hear Jesus predict his passion and death, and we'll hear the disciples argue with one another about who is the greatest, and we'll hear Jesus tell them that they must become servant to all, and we'll hear Jesus pick up a little child and urge us to invite the simplest among us into our midst. But we probably won't hear the bit about the disciples being afraid to ask Jesus a question.

As a part of my daily spiritual disciplines, whether I am preaching or not, I read the lessons for the upcoming Sunday and listen for what the Spirit might say to me through them. Today is Thursday, and I've had four days now to read this short passage from Mark, but today is the first day that I really noticed the line that reads, "But [the disciples] did not understand what [Jesus] was saying and were afraid to ask him." Afraid? Really? Afraid of what?

School work has always come pretty easily for me, so, when I asked the teacher a question that seemed obvious to everyone else, my peers often thought I was showing off. Actually, I'm an external, aural learner--I need to say it to know it. Still, when I write a sermon, I say the words out loud in order that I might remember them. Because of that, I am shocked to read that the disciples--Jesus' closest followers, those who had given up their lives and left their homes to go wherever he went--were afraid to ask Jesus what he meant. What's the worst that could happen? Would he yell at them for being a little slow on the uptake? Would he fire them as disciples? Would he curse them out of existence?

Yet, at the same time that I find myself amazed at the disciples' reticence, I understand it deeply. How could they ask him what he meant? This was important stuff. This was central to Jesus' identity. They could tell that it mattered a great deal. For them to ask about it was to admit that they did not know who he really was. To say, "Jesus, we don't get it," felt like saying, "Jesus, we don't believe in you." Of course, that isn't true.

Sometimes I am afraid to ask a question because it shows my ignorance. But even more than the best teacher or parent, God already knows how much I don't know. And he loves me anyway. Jesus knew that his disciples were struggling with his messianic identity. He knew that God's upside-down logic of a savior who was rejected and killed wouldn't make sense to them. Maybe that's why he stops to bring a child in their midst--as if to show them he was patient enough for even the simplest questions and to invite them also to be like children and come to him with more questions than answers.

Don't be afraid to ask God all of your questions--the tough ones, the obvious ones, the skeptical ones, the angry ones, the disappointed ones, and the "stupid" ones (whatever those are). If you don't understand who God is or how Jesus' life and death and resurrection mean that God has already saved you even from death itself, don't be afraid. Just ask. Keep asking.

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