Recognizing Our Weakness and Relying on God’s Strength – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

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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  1. John G. on January 25, 2023 at 13:50

    Thank you, Brother David, for your realistic but compassionate view of Jesus’ disciples, who are a reflection of us. I believe Luke is the most humane and forgiving of the Evangelists. That is the attitude I need to take with myself. I tend to disparage myself, and that does nothing but keep me stuck in my old ways. Indeed, I do have limitations, but I am considering what I can do by the Grace of God, not so much what I can’t do. Thank you and SSJE for providing this meaningful way to reflect on my own journey of discipleship.

  2. Boyd on January 25, 2023 at 09:42

    Thank you for this message about the path of discipleship. A few days ago, our Contemplative Prayer group was discussing personal encounters with God. Like most people, I have never experienced a road to Damascus “moment.” I am still on the road, experiencing the good and challenging moments that we all encounter on long journeys. As Bro. Vryhof observes, all of us encounter obstacles on the road, but God is with us every step of the way.

  3. Dawn Browne on August 11, 2020 at 16:52

    ” and move on.” Three little words but so important. It is all too easy to get stuck. I have experienced it and seen it happen to others. May God grant us the ability to perceive and know what we ought to do,and give us the grace and power faithfully to fulfil the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

  4. Bobbi Fisher on August 10, 2020 at 20:36

    Thank you for reminding me that the path to discipleship is long– a lifetime, that I will make mistakes and fail, but that Jesus will be with me. You messages helps me forgive myself.

  5. Elizabeth Hardy on August 10, 2020 at 10:51

    This is such an important reminder to us when we become impatient or despondent about our failures, shortcomings and weakness that we are ‘in process’! We are being converted and transformed. Like that biblical image of clay in the potter’s hands. Thank you Br. David. Elilzabeth Hardy+

  6. SusanMarie on August 10, 2020 at 07:27

    Thank you…that’s all I can think to write now.

    • SusanMarie on August 10, 2020 at 16:00

      …and I needed this message so desperately this morning that when I read it I was rather stunned at the realization that God came to me through Br. David’s words just at the time I needed to hear them—and hear God. Amazing grace…

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