" ... but they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him. Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.
September 17, 2021, Words By: Pat Thompson, Image By: Barbara Zandoval
Do you know that feeling of being afraid to ask a question? I do. My work involves meetings with educators and others who care for our community’s children. That means I’m often surrounded by people who use teacher language — educator speak.
And I can really fall behind in the conversation when they start using acronyms when referring to teaching methods, standards and operations. MTSS (Multi Tiered Systems of Support), IRI (Instruction on Race and Identity), RTL (Readiness to Learn), and the list goes on.
Honestly, when I don’t understand something, I know I should ask but I don’t want to “look dumb.” I finally fessed up to my teacher friends that I’m not always tracking their conversations very well. Sometimes I’m downright lost! We laughed. They understood and apologized, and now when the abbreviations begin, someone will look at me to make sure I’m following along!
When Jesus says to the disciples, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise,” it would have been so easy for one of them to ask for an explanation.
I’m disappointed that they didn’t lean into this conversation, but I get it. They were probably either afraid of the answer, or thinking, “I should know what he’s talking about, I’ve been following him for a while now.”
It’s a loss for all of us that they missed the opportunity to engage more deeply with Jesus in this moment, regardless of whether it happened due to fear or pride. What’s interesting is that their insecurity ultimately landed them in an argument with each about who among them was the greatest! Ironically, an argument like that rarely reveals a person’s greatness!
Imagine if just one of the disciples had been able to set aside their insecurity to ask Jesus if he would say a little more? Would that have freed up the others to ask their questions? What kind of conversation might have ensued? Would it have fostered more trust and greater understanding between the disciples instead of competition and the need to posture with one another?
And what about us? Do we feel freed up to ask Jesus all the things? Are we being real with God and with one another? Do we push through our insecurities to ask the hard questions and have authentic conversations with each other? Or are we too busy trying to appear as if we “have it all together,” as if we are “the greatest?”
After Jesus realized that they argued about their own greatness, he pointed them towards the path of humility saying, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
God’s greatness isn’t the result of posturing, ego or even perfect behavior. It comes about through the vulnerability of stepping into our fears and pain and those of our community, just as Jesus modeled for us.
Paradoxically, as we practice that vulnerability, we learn to let go of rivalry and truly love ourselves and others. In other words, we become servants to the community. That is the mark of greatness in God’s Kingdom.
Dwelling Among Us
This week, let’s fess up to God and to one another when we need help in our understanding. Whenever we can, let’s choose being real over being self-conscious.