An old Latin Proverb talks about our ability to receive information; “Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur. The translation: “Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.” To paraphrase another proverb: We receive things not as they are but as we are. The receptivity of the antenna determines the signal received.
When Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem for the last time, he tried to prepare his disciples for his upcoming passion, death and resurrection. In Matthew’s gospel we read: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.’ (Matt 16:20-21)
Peter rebuked the Lord for being so pessimistic. “God forbid, Lord! No such thing will ever happen to you.” He (Jesus) turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matt 16:22-23)
Jesus tried again a second time to teach them about his upcoming passion but he was met with the same results. Matthew says that they were overwhelmed with grief. Other gospels say they misunderstood but were afraid to ask him any questions.
Now comes a third teaching as they draw closer to Jerusalem. The disciples are already in a fearful mood, “amazed” to be going to the great city at last, but also “afraid” because Jesus has been encountering conflict and hostility in his teachings.
Still, this is the event for which these guys have been waiting. They figured a leader like Jesus would eventually take Jerusalem by storm and become some type of hero – maybe a celebrated religious authority in the temple, or a political revolutionary who would throw out the Romans and restore Israel’s autonomy – a bonafide king of the Jews.
A third time Jesus tries to tell them about his upcoming passion, death and resurrection. Right after, James and John had the gall to ask Jesus for these privileged positions in his kingdom. The disciples focus on what mattered most to them: what’s in it for loyal disciples who follow Jesus all the way to the city of dreams, Jerusalem? They do not integrate Jesus’ thrice-repeated prediction that the end of the Jerusalem road is condemnation, passion, and death.
Modern disciples are not much better at hearing Jesus than James and John. We listen to the gospel message that suits us: God’s unconditional love, forgiveness of sins for those who ask, comfort in time of affliction, and other pleasant ideas that we call the “good news.” Sacrifice, serving others, willingness to suffer and lay down our lives for our friends are not our idea of good news.
Many of us do not even want to provide basic hospitality to others, much less give our lives for them. We do not want to deal with the outsiders who do not speak our language. We do not want to hear any more lectures about justice or our responsibility to the poor. Service and sacrifice are not what we signed up for when we agreed to follow Jesus.
We want the heavenly seats of glory and we are willing to obey most commandments for that. We are even willing to come to church and be subject to all the things that go on in our worship services. Isn’t doing all those good things payment enough for those seats of glory?
Jesus gave his life as an offering for sin. We need to head down that same road. Like Jesus, God calls us to lay down our lives for our friends. If we identify with his passion, we will find that narrow road to eternal glory.