Monday, September 17, 2018

Quiet Teaching

Yesterday in Mark 8, we heard Jesus predict his passion and death for the first time. This coming Sunday, leaping over the Transfiguration and the miracle exorcism that follows it, we read the story of Jesus' second passion prediction in Mark 9:30-37. Given the repetition, I suspect that the second half of the lesson, which includes the argument among the disciples about which one of them is the greatest and Jesus' teaching about the first being last will get most of the attention, but, at first glance, the opening sentences are what catch my eye this morning: "Jesus and his disciples passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, 'The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.'" More specifically, it is the "for" that links Jesus' desire to keep a low profile and Jesus' prediction of his death on which I really want to focus.

Jesus didn't want anyone to know where he was for he was teaching his disciples that he would suffer and die. First, what word does the Greek text actually use? As in English, there are several ways to show cause in NT Greek. Some are stronger than others. In this case, instead of using "dia," which is most often translated "because," or "epei," which is most often translated as "since," Mark uses the more common and less definitive "gar," which means "for." As in English, "for" doesn't make as clear a causal connection as "because." Mark isn't telling us that Jesus wanted to go unnoticed because he was teaching his disciples about his upcoming death. In my mind, it sounds more like he was teaching his disciples about his upcoming death and didn't think it was a good time to include others in the conversation. They're related but somehow with less intention.

How do other translations put it? The NIV uses "because" but separates the actual teaching from the mention of it: "Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, 'The Son of Man...'" The CEB makes the link clearer than "gar" might imply: "...he didn’t want anyone to know it. This was because he was teaching his disciples, 'The Human One will be delivered...'" Many others, like ESV and KJV, leave  the word as "for," but it's good to know that other translation committees see the possibility of a stronger connection between Jesus' desire for privacy and the content of his teaching.

But why? This is an echo of yesterday's gospel, when Jesus starts by teaching his disciples privately that he must be betrayed, suffer, die, and be raised. After the "Get behind me, Satan!" confrontation with Peter, Jesus addresses the crowd and invites them to take up their own cross and follow him, choosing to lose their lives for Jesus' sake in order to save them. But, in Mark 9, we're back to a private moment. There's something about this particular messianic identity that Jesus still wants to keep a secret.

In yesterday's sermon, I made a transitional comment that wasn't very important to the message but that comes back up in my mind today. The "take up your cross and lose your life" message isn't a great strategy for building a church, but, as PB Michael Curry reminds us, Jesus didn't come to build a church but to start a movement. Maybe that's part of what's behind this quiet teaching. Jesus knows that he can't say this openly to his would-be followers but can only let the fully committed disciples hear. I wonder if this is keeping with Mark's pattern of establishing the true identity of Jesus as God's anointed one before sharing the consequences of that. Regardless, it's allows a way into the text for a sermon.

I'm not preaching, but I can imagine presenting that dual invitation: to those who have come to believe that Jesus is the anointed one of God the invitation is to journey with him to and through his death and to those who are still wondering who Jesus is the invitation is to journey with him down the road a little bit longer until who he is becomes clear. Writing that, I'm not really happy with it, which makes me glad I'm not preaching this week, but I look forward to wrestling with the text between now and Sunday and hearing the sermon that our preacher will offer.

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