An elementary classroom teacher gives a thorough explanation of the significance and location of the subject and verb in a sentence. Immediately after the explanation, a student gives a blank and confused look back to the teacher. The teacher is like, “Don’t you get it?”
In defense to any of our youth who don’t get English grammar, don’t feel bad. I didn’t hardly understand nothing about grammar until I got to Seminary and had to learn Greek and Hebrew. And yes, for our English teachers or word people, that double negative I just used … it was intentional.
So obviously that elementary classroom scenario is not limited to only elementary school. It could be a junior high or high school student sitting in math class struggling with algebra or geometry. It could be a college student in a physics or chemistry class. It could be a seminary student trying to learn Greek and Hebrew. “Don’t you get it?”
That same question comes up in a home when a clearly defined family rule or expectation has one again been violated. As the parent picks up the lamp that fell off the table because of rough housing or steps on the Lego, Paw Patrol figure, or a micro machine for the umpteenth time because the kids forgot to pick up their toys … parents look at their children and are like, “really, don’t you get it?”
That simple little four-word question could also summarize the response Jesus might have had in our gospel reading this morning after interacting with his disciples and the mothers of the son of Zebedee.
You see, Jesus has repeatedly taught his disciples about what his mission is, what it’s all about. In Matthew’s gospel, Matthew notes three specific conversations Jesus has with his disciples. Following the “who do the people say the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13) question and Peter’s bold confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16), we are told “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (16:21). Pretty straightforward right?
Shortly after Jesus’ Transfiguration, which is only the next chapter, Jesus again shares, “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life” (17:22-23).
Right before our gospel reading this morning, which takes place right before Jesus makes his grand triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, Jesus continues to teach his disciples. Jesus is very clear as to why he and the disciples are heading to Jerusalem. How clear you ask? Crystal clear. “And the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law” (16:18). Jesus continues on with the details about the emotional and physical agony of the journey he is on.
One would hope the disciples would begin to understand the purpose and the seriousness of Jesus’ mission and would fill in the other people close to them and Jesus. Wishful thinking though. The disciples aren’t getting what Jesus is throwing down for them, but rather than ask questions for clarification or offer any kind of support, the disciples are immediately distracted by an interaction between Jesus and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. She says, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (20:21).
Granted, we are blessed with the broader perspective of Jesus’ mission and the events that are to follow, but really, in the midst of that situation, we still might have responded, “Don’t you get it, mother?”
But instead, the disciples get all caught up in the conversation. “When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers” (20:24). In their jealousy, these other ten disciples wanted similar positions in Jesus’ kingdom. They were more concerned about themselves rather than their Lord and Master.
Now before we become too judgmental of the mother and the disciples … we need to stop, take a step back, reflect a little, and then confess that too often … you and I don’t get it either.
We don’t get the reality of our sin. Far too often we sin and far too often we don’t even realize we are doing it because we have become so immune to it. We can identify with the disciples as we seek out our own prideful place. Surely, we are more worthy of recognition than others. Certainly, our individual service within our church, school, home, and other contexts of our lives deserves some sort of a reward right?
Rather than celebrating Jesus’ grace … we seek out our own glory. God’s law would have us “get” that we are truly sinful in thought, word, and deed, and that we don’t deserve a place within his kingdom.
The Good News though is that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (20:28). The Son of Man, Jesus, was willing to leave the right hand of his Father’s kingdom, to lower himself to take on human flesh and be born of a virgin in a messy manger in the tiny little town of Bethlehem. Jesus’ life journey pointed to one thing … the cross. Through the cross, Jesus was fulfilling every little detail of God’s master plan of salvation. Jesus was willing to be betrayed, he was willing to be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. Jesus was willing to be wrongfully condemned to death, be delivered over to be mocked, flogged, and crucified (20:18-19). Jesus willingly served as the sacrifice for the sins of the world, for you and me. And then to make sure that his service might be the sufficient and the final payment was received by all who believe, Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day (20:19).
The message of Christ’s death and resurrection is the message which Lutheran schools and congregations have shared with children and families for generations. Like the disciples, we easily get distracted from Jesus’ message individually and collectively. But unlike other places within the world where the focus is on me, myself, and I, where the focus is on what I can do for myself to make my life better … our church body, our churches, our schools … we continue to teach and preach the message that Jesus came “to give his life as a ransom for many.”
The world may not “get” our message, but our mission is all about serving God with everything that is in me and about loving and serving my neighbor above myself. Students may not always get everything they are taught in school, adults may not get everything either … but that doesn’t stop us from praying that through the Spirit’s work and blessing, the message of Christ will be heard and taken to heart.
Having heard of Jesus’ saving service, the disciples are “Sent to Serve.” Jesus demonstrated greatness by associating himself with little children, healing lepers, responding to the pleas of fathers and mothers for their sick and dying children, sitting in the living rooms of thieving tax collectors and other sinners, and washing feet. The King of kings came to serve all the way to the cross.
We who have received the bounty of God’s love are sent to serve. The message of our sinful self, the temptations of Satan, and the encouragement of the world is to “serve me.” We identify with Jesus’ disciples in saying, “Put me next to You on Your throne.” Parents desire, “Serve my child first.” Everyone seems to suggest, “What about my rights?” Certainly fairness and justness are godly and necessary. However … how many of our requests tend to be self-serving?
Jesus teaches, “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.”
We confess … we don’t always get it. We miss the point of Jesus’ message and mission at times. We still seek our own interests. Through the message of God’s word in our churches and schools, we continue to “get” the Good News of God’s grace, we continue to “get” that we are sent to serve in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.