Luke 9:37-50 (with focus on v. 43b-45)
We have before us today a short passage from Luke’s gospel focusing on the failure of the disciples to understand Jesus’ prediction that he will “be betrayed into human hands.” To understand it better, I’d like to view it in its broader context (Luke 9:37-50), which you’ll find printed on the handout.
Jesus is with his disciples in Galilee, about to turn his face towards Jerusalem, where he will face betrayal, crucifixion and death. He is speaking with his disciples about the cost of discipleship, and the necessity of “taking up the cross” in order to follow him.
In this section of Luke 9, we are brought face-to-face with the weakness of the twelve. They are lacking in power, having failed to cast a demon out of a boy. They are lacking in understanding, failing to grasp Jesus’ prediction of his betrayal into the hands of his enemies. They are lacking in humility, arguing about which of them was the greatest. And finally, they are lacking in sympathy and in Jesus’ spirit of inclusivity, when they try to exclude those who do not join them.[i]
Our attention is drawn to the second of these weaknesses in our gospel reading today: the failure to understand Jesus’ prediction that he will “be betrayed into human hands.” It is not difficult to see why this confusion arises. The disciples are caught between two sharply contrasting voices: On the one hand, there is the voice of the crowd, which is “astounded” and “amazed” by Jesus’ demonstrations of power. On the other, there is Jesus’ voice, claiming that he will be betrayed and given over to his enemies. The disciples’ confusion stems from what seems to be a clear contradiction between Jesus’ power and his powerlessness. How or why would someone who has such power and authority find himself in the position of having his life determined by others?
The gospels make it clear that this understanding comes only by revelation. The disciples are with Jesus “on the way.” They cannot grasp the full meaning of these events now, but the risen Christ will open their eyes at last and they will see and understand. The path of discipleship is a long and winding one; there is much to learn along the way.
Even though he here acknowledges the disciples’ weakness, Luke is not disparaging them. “Luke has consistently high regard for the Twelve,” says Fred Craddock, a respected biblical scholar. “They have been chosen as apostles after a night of prayer (6:12-16), prepared, and sent out with power and authority (9:1-6). But they have been jolted with Jesus’ prophecy of his passion and with the demanding word that the path of discipleship is the way of the cross.”[ii] It will take time and patience on the part of Jesus to bring them along.
Like these disciples, we too will have much to learn on the road to discipleship. Our ability to understand and to act rightly will be tested again and again. Like them, we will often fail. We ought not to be discouraged by these failures; they are a necessary part of our conversion and transformation. As we admit in our Rule, “… we can be sure that the Society’s life will be marked by fragility and many frustrating limitations. The resources to meet the demands made on us will seem inadequate, and our numbers too few. Our energies will seem insufficient for the claims made on them, and the task of balancing our life and husbanding our strengths too difficult… Every day we will be called to grow in reliance on grace alone and to surrender those inner and outer riches that hold us back from risking all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us.”[iii] Perhaps you’ve experienced a similar sense of weakness and inadequacy at some point in your life and ministry.
Be patient, then, in weakness and in failure. Refuse to berate or disparage yourself. Confess your failings, learn from them and move on. The path of discipleship is long, but you can be sure that the risen Christ will bring you home at last.
[i] Craddock, Fred; Luke (Interpretation Commentary); (Louisville KY: John Knox Press, 1990), p. 135-138.
[ii] Ibid, p. 135.
[iii] Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist; (Cambridge MA: Cowley Publications, 1997); p. 13.
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