If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.
8 November. Mark chapters 8-9
It has often been remarked that Jesus’ closest disciples seem to have been particularly slow-witted men. They are given the privilege of seeing Jesus perform many miracles, both those in public (such as the feeding of the four thousand and several healings, just in these two chapters) and those he performed just for them such as calming the storm. In addition, he took three of them with him up the mountain where he was transfigured into an angelic being alongside Moses and Elijah, and they all heard the voice of God (9:2-8). Peter did, eventually, come out with it and say “you are the Messiah” (or Christ, 8:29). Yet they still found it hard to accept it when Jesus performed another miracle, and when they tried and failed.
They also failed to understand Jesus’ “servant heart”. He has just told them about having to “take up one’s cross” to follow him, and becoming great by being humble. “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?” (8:36) is one of my favourite Bible verses, because it always challenges me to ask myself what I am giving up in order to serve God (the answer, usually, is “not enough”). But only a short while later he has to reprimand them for arguing about which of them was the greatest (9:34) when he was trying to get them to work together as a team and be examples to others of self-sacrifice.
Jesus’ frustration with his disciples is echoed by the frustration felt by church leaders and preachers when most of the congregation seem to find it so hard to take on board the basic principles of the faith. Like those whom Paul chides for being like infants who only want milk when they should have been weaned onto solid food, many who come to church seem to be unable or unwilling to even try and live Jesus’ way the rest of the week. Those of us who do try, know that we never succeed completely, or much at all; but at least we are trying.
Jesus has a stern warning just after the “taking up the cross” challenge: “Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (8:38). He is not asking to find people perfect when he returns, just to be “unashamed of me and my words”, in other words to be openly practising their faith and making enough of a difference in the world to be known as Christians. The cry of the father of a troubled child might be ours too: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (9:24)