“But they understood none of these things; this saying was hidden from them, and they did not know the things which were spoken.”
How on earth was this saying hidden from the disciples? What part of “He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon; they will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again” did they not understand? Jesus couldn’t be more clear, could he have?
There’s nothing really hidden here. Jesus is using language exactly as it is intended to be used, as a one to one correspondence with the truth conveyed through the instrumentality of human speech. Nothing mysterious. Nothing esoteric. Nothing hidden in cryptic riddles or mystical sayings.
What, then, hides Jesus’ clear words? It’s our preconceived systems, formulas, and philosophical frameworks.
This happens all the time. It might be the one believing faith is an activity of our faculties of mind, will, or emotion, for whom “be baptized every one of you… a promise for you and your children” doesn’t compute. It might be the one believing Jesus came to begin a political movement for whom Jesus’ departure from this world doesn’t compute.
Did you know the word “relationship” isn’t in the Bible once? Yet how often is this mature word (children don’t have “relationships” – “Hi Billy, how’s your relationship with your mother?” “Huh?”) used in sermons.
Did you know the phrases “surrender your life to the Lord” and “give your heart to Jesus” are never used? Yet for how many people is this the driving message of the Gospel?
Did you know how many times the word “care” is used it the Gospels? Maybe four our five times, three of which are used in the context of Christ NOT caring (the disciples, Martha, and the Pharisees – “nor do You care about anyone.”) Yet how often is “the caring Christ” used as the basis for a congregation’s slogans: “We Care!”
Do you know how many teachings Jesus has about love? Love God. Love neighbor. Love enemies. Love one another. That’s it. A handful of passages covers it. Yet for millions of people with only a surface understanding of Christianity, “Isn’t Jesus all about love? Of course He’d welcome a married gay couple to church and accept them.”
Do you know how many times the word “commitment” is used. Never. Sins are committed, and the Gospel is committed to us. But our being “committed” to Christ? Not so much.
Do you know how many times the word “rights” is used. Never.
How many books of the Bible were written by a woman? How many apostles were women? Which persons of the Trinity were revealed as female?
You get the idea. The point is not to claim there is no correspondence between biblical teachings and these ideas – the word “Trinity” after all is nowhere in the Bible, or the word “sacrament.” (And indeed, sometimes we get into trouble when we begin with these concept words and have them drive the textual details rather than letting the Gospel qualify what these concepts mean – for instance in the numbering of the sacraments.)
The point is how often we allow our systems, formulas, and philosophical frameworks to keep Jesus’ word hidden from us, when they couldn’t be more clear.
Going back to the Parable of the Sower, the word is like a seed. A rotten, corrupted seed will not do its work. When we corrupt Christ’s words with our forced interpretations of them, they can’t do their work. This is what the Pharisees did. Think, for instance, what happens when we qualify the hardness of “love your enemies” with all sorts of “Well, that doesn’t mean this or that.” Jesus had to shake this qualification game with the lawyer to whom He told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. “Who exactly is my neighbor? How can I qualify that?”
“What did Jesus really mean about divorce and remarriage?” “What did Jesus really mean about ‘This is My Body.’” “What did Jesus really mean when He said marriage is one man, one woman, becoming one flesh?” “What did Jesus really mean by calling the Twelve apostles?” “What did Jesus really mean when He effectively said the day of the Jews as a people of God were winding down and a new people of God were being created?” “What did Jesus really mean when He said my kingdom is not of this world?”
The very difficulty of Christ’s word – as it is given in all its clarity – is its power, the power to drive the sinner to his knees, the power to lift the humble one up with His grace and forgiveness. Our formulas and systems always are acts of self-justification. They cloud Christ’s will.
Throughout history Christian allegorists – what some have called the “half gnostics” – claimed Christ’s clear words are too “earthly” in their clarity, and only the enlightened elite who have a woke glimpse of true understanding can interpret them. Many a non-sacramental church will even change Jesus’ words at the last supper to say, “This bread symbolizes my body.” Guess how many times the word “symbolize” is in the Bible. (Actually once, when St. Paul compares the two covenants to Hagar and Sarah.)
Here’s a fun one. The name that is above every name was given to Jesus. (See Philippians 2: 9) What is the name that is above every name? Not something we think about a lot – probably Jehovah, right? – but it’s something the Jehovah’s Witnesses know intimately as the heart and center of their faith – of course it’s Jehovah! And who was given that name? Jesus? Oh, you mean Jesus is Jehovah? But that is impossible according to the Jehovah’s Witness’ rejection of the Holy Trinity. What to do with Philippians 2: 9? Well, look at a Jehovah’s Witness bible and see what they do – “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every [other] name.” I.e. every name other than Jehovah.
Wow. How much is hidden from us because of our preconceived frameworks we’ve set up for our own personal self-justification.
I’ve often challenged people to read the Gospels for the first time, and just read them. Don’t try to dig for passages supporting your political ideology or theological system. Just read it. It’s actually quite surprising. You may be shocked by what you read and also what you don’t read
There’s nothing hidden about Christ’s words. They are proclaimed from the rooftops. Children get them, because children don’t think in abstractions. Christ bids us to receive them as little children. The beauty of this is it doesn’t require some disciplined “getting in the right mind” or “sitting still so you can discern God’s voice in the silence.” It just requires you to open your ears and listen. He that has ears to hear, let him hear!