One of the very best things about being retired is that no I longer have to go to all those meetings; the ones I was once duty-bound to attend, the majority of which I left wondering what on earth it was all about. Honestly, it makes me feel like giving a little whoo-hoo of happiness and relief! However, even now I cannot escape every meeting and tomorrow evening I will be going to our ministry team meeting but that does have a clear agenda and a real purpose which is always a good start.
Most of us have meetings, they may be formal or informal, planned to the last detail or spontaneous and although they may not always have a purpose there is always an agenda. That agenda may have been issued in good time or given out hurriedly as the meeting begins. It may be printed or electronic or made up as you go along, it may even be hidden but there is always an agenda. Agendas are important they help plan and set goals, but the chances are that each of us will have our very own version. Our version will highlight the things that are important to us, the subjects we are desperate to discuss. That version with highlight he points we are determined to make and help us prepare for the argument that must be won. Yes – we all have an agenda.
Who was the greatest?
2000 years ago, the disciples also had their agenda. It was pretty much a one item affair, but it was important to them, who was the greatest? It is easy to imagine the 12 getting together in a rather less than holy huddle to discuss their favourite topic. There would be cautious checks to make sure Jesus couldn’t hear them as they argued their points.
Jesus may have just told them, once again, that he is about to be condemned but they don’t appear to have heard as their minds are elsewhere. If they did recall his words about betrayal, being killed and what was that something or other about 3 days well, perhaps they imagined that instead of being in the silver medal position it was going to be gold. I really hope not. Unfortunately, that is what our personal agendas are often like, nothing else really matters other than what we believe to be important and what we believe to be important is frequently ourselves.
Getting in the way
So, for a time at least the goal of being the greatest was all that mattered to the 12. All that other stuff, the things that Jesus keeps saying to them about betrayal and death they really don’t want to know. The rising after 3 days they don’t even seem to hear. These things got in the way, going, as they do, against everything they have built up in their heads and hearts.
They have seen Jesus cast out demons and control the elements. They have seen him do and say so many wonderful things. Thousands have listened to him, even if most walked away. To the disciples, at least, it was going so well. They have been swept up in Jesus’ plan, sometimes even more so than their own (although they never forget that agenda). To them it really looks as if a bunch of ordinary blokes from nowhere are going to have it all and one of them might just get that bit more than the rest if they can only agree who actually is the greatest.
The penny drops
For the disciples this was possibly the real and only point. Their Agenda must be fulfilled; so why does Jesus keep trying to spoil it all? It was not going to be death and despair. It could not be suffering, betrayal and murder. As for resurrection, well that was impossible. No matter how disappointing we may feel the attitude of the disciples is I think we can relate to how they felt and what they must be thinking; even though we may not care to admit it.
The disciples think that all that Jesus has to do is keep the people sweet a little longer. Keep on with the miracles bparables a bit easier to understand. Put in a bit more hope and good times and cut out, or at least reduce, the hard work and suffering. Just do this and it will be grand. No one has to suffer and no one has to die. Well, it took time but eventually the disciples did realise that someone has to suffer and someone has to die.
If you read John 14. 1-6, the passage which I read at just about every funeral I conduct, the one that begins: In my father’s house there are many rooms you will hear the penny finally dropping for the disciples. And immediately they want to know what will happen to them? And wouldn’t we all?
The Christian faith is full of questions and full of humanity, giving us Christian folk quite a packed agenda and truthfully all that suffering makes our job, as Christians trying to prove the love of God to others, so much harder. So, we should be able to understand why the disciples thought that what Jesus said was just too difficult to contemplate. We should be able to understand why they kept going back to their argument about which of them was the greatest and why, for so long, they went on as though Jesus hadn’t said a thing about his future. Because fear does that. Fear silences us. Fear numbs us and fear makes us ignore what we don’t want to know.
It is little wonder that the disciples felt a whole lot better when they turned to something much more positive as they imagined all that power and glory. No wonder they did not want to tell Jesus what they were really arguing about. He has been talking about suffering and they are imagining living the life of kings. They have missed the point completely.
And Jesus knows this; and he knows that we so often are still missing the point as well. We miss the point because as soon as we claim to be greater (and we do) we must be saying that someone else is less. We miss the point because most of the time, just like the disciples, we too are unable to fully understand or accept what Jesus said and did. And we don’t like his agenda. If you think that’s not true go and read the passion narratives again.
Not forced to follow
When Jesus spoke about how he would be betrayed, arrested and killed he wasn’t just predicting an unavoidable chain of events; he was committing himself to a way of love and peace which would not and will not force people to follow. A great many Christians still struggle with the idea that God does not simply make people believe or at the very least give more people a push in the right direction. But the way to the Kingdom is made possible by the Father willingly setting aside the power to do that and the Son willingly going to the cross. This continues to confuse and confound us, just as it confused and confounded the first disciples.
This was what the disciples failed to see. So, to help them Jesus takes a child in his arms. A child who doesn’t understand what’s going on around him but who knows he is safe as he is held by Jesus. Perhaps Jesus is saying to his disciples then and now: “I know you don’t understand what I mean and sometimes it’s frightening or seems impossible. But just as I’m holding this child safely – so I will hold you safely. And if you still what to know who is the greatest, well you are and you are and you and you, every one of you…”
We know this is true, because today we heard His Agenda: “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”
“We all have an agenda” was proclaimed by Elizabeth Binns at Christ Church Walmersley on Sunday 19th September 2021. It was based on Mark 9:30-37. Beryl Cook’s picture of Madonna and Child is Elizabeth’s favourite picture and is shown here with grateful thanks. Copyright © John Cook 2021. www.ourberylcook.com.