Preparing the Disciples

jesus-and-disciplesThis coming Sunday is the 2th Sunday of Ordinary Time with the Gospel taken from Mark 9:30-37. In the account, Jesus tells the disciples, again, of his impending passion, death and rising from the tomb. And 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 gospel stories from St. Mark:

  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 mu 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: Passion prediction, misunderstanding, and instructions. 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.


Sources

  • Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark, vol. 8 of The New Interpreter’s Bible (Nashville, TN: Abington Press, 1994) 635-38
  • Brian Stoffregen, CrossMarks Christian Resources

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