Sunday Morning Greek Blog

May 1, 2011

“If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times…”

Filed under: Biblical Studies,Greek,Luke Gospel of,Matthew Gospel of — Scott Stocking @ 8:23 am

I have an important message for all of us husbands, former, current, and future: for all the times our former, current, and future wives (respectively) said (or will say) things to us about their friends, jobs, or something that needed fixing in the house, and we quickly forgot those things until we were reminded that we weren’t good listeners, I grant general absolution. Before you start cheering, you former, current, and future wives, because for all those times we former, current, and future husbands (respectively) told you (or will tell you) things about the car, the electronics, or the computer but you failed to heed, leading to expensive repairs, I grant you general absolution as well. And need I say anything about what we tell our kids? You’re forgiven, kids, but don’t forget next time!

Have I unsettled you yet? Great! Know this, however: when you fail to take heed of things that someone else thinks are important for you to know, you are in prestigious company, namely, the company of the twelve apostles.

Three times in Luke’s Gospel (9:21–27, 43b–45; 18:31–34) Jesus tells his apostles, “Oh, by the way, I’m going to be turned over to the Jewish rulers and Roman authorities to be beaten, tortured, and killed, but I’ll come back in few days.” You would think that the first time that the man whom you most admire in the world drops this bomb on you, there would at least be some reaction from the apostles. (Actually in Matthew 16:21ff, Peter does rebuke Jesus for saying this, but Jesus turns around and promptly returns the rebuke in stronger terms, calling Peter “Satan,” but for whatever reason, Luke doesn’t record that in 9:21–27.) But like a stealth bomber at an Air Force air show, the statement zips right over their heads, and they never considered it again, until….

In Luke 9:21–27 (which is parallel to Matthew’s account in Matthew 16), Jesus first makes the statement, but then immediately begins talking about more stuff that we might be prone to forget: stuff like denying ourselves, taking up our crosses, and being willing to follow Jesus to death if necessary. So one might understand why his first statement went unnoticed. It reminds me a little of Moses in Exodus 3:5–14. God makes eight “I” statements to Moses about who he is and what he intends to do, most of which are miraculous or spectacular, but all Moses could key in on was the last statement: “By the way, Moses, I’m sending you to make sure Pharaoh knows I’m the one doing all this.” Moses’ response is not, “Wow, God, I’m so grateful to have your complete and total support and protection as I go back to the nation where I’m number one on the ‘Most Wanted’ list. I’ll get right on that.” Instead, Moses turns the attention back on himself. “Who am I?” (I can just see God giving Moses a Gibbs’ slap to the back of the head.)

Even if we take Peter’s response in Matthew into consideration, the point is that there is no apparent sadness among the apostles after Jesus says he’s going to die. When we get news that a loved one has cancer or was in a serious car wreck, are we, like Peter, more concerned about how this messes up our own agenda, or are we genuinely concerned about the well-being of our loved one? You see the point?

According to Luke, the apostles had eight days to process this first prediction (Luke 9:28) before something even more amazing took place, but only three of the apostles were in on that Transfiguration event. In that event, Jesus spoke about his coming death with Moses and Elijah, but again, the three in the inner circle are clueless, but understandably so. Luke 9:32 says the disciples were βεβαρημένοι ὕπνῳ (bebarēmenoi hypnō /beh-bah-ray-MEH-noi HOOP-no/ ‘burdened with sleep’), but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because the conversation between three of Judaism’s most amazing men was boring! The sleepiness seems to be divinely induced, because in the next breath, they become “fully awake” (διαγρηγορήσαντες diagrēgorēsantes /dee-ah-gray-goh-RAY-sahn-tess/) and have once again completely missed the talk of their Lord’s impending death. Instead, Peter wants to build a booth, as if that will put off Jesus’ sacrifice.

It is no accident, then, that Jesus’ second prediction of his death comes right after this Transfiguration event. I like the way Jesus puts it in 9:44: Θέσθε ὑμεῖς εἰς τὰ ὦτα ὑμῶν τοὺς λόγους τούτους (thesthe hymeis eis ta ōta hymōn tous logous toutous literally, ‘you yourselves place in your ears these words’). Usually when a command is given in Greek, as in English, you don’t have to use the pronoun “you,” because the subject is implied. But we know when we hear the pronoun “you” in an English command, the person giving the command means business. The same goes for the Greek here. Jesus expressly focuses on his disciples, because he wants them to know this. He would be delivered over into the hands of men, but he says nothing in this instance of his resurrection.

Jesus says this, though, knowing that the disciples won’t get it. The very next verse says that the disciples “didn’t understand” (ἀγνοέω agnoeō /ah-gnaw-EH-oh/ ‘to be ignorant’; same root for the word “agnostic”) and that the meaning of the words was “hidden” (παρακαλύπτω parakalyptō /pah rah kah LOO ptoh/) from them. Jesus is preparing his disciples for the worst, but if Peter’s response in Matthew is any indication, he does not want the disciples focusing on his impending death. He wants them to stay focused on ministry in the here and now. (I think this is one of the reasons Jesus teaches against worrying; worrying focuses on things over which we have no control, and we fail to live in the here and now as God wants us to.)

In Luke 18:31–34, as Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, he again predicts his death, and again, the Twelve fail to “understand” (συνίημι syniēmi /soo-NEE-ay-mee/) because the meaning is “hidden” (κρύπτω kryptō /KROO-ptoh/), but by this time, I’d have to think that the disciples were suspecting something unusual was in the works, even if they didn’t comprehend it completely. It isn’t until the penultimate verses of Luke (24:45–49) that Jesus, just after his resurrection, finally reveals to them the meaning of all that talk of his death that had remained hidden to them until that point. At that point, they finally had their “Aha!” moment and could truly and fully rejoice, because their knowledge and understanding were made complete.

Maybe that’s why many Christians (including myself) seem to “go through the motions” at times, because it hasn’t hit home yet just exactly what God is doing in our lives. We’ve been reading the book The Christian Atheist in Wednesday night class. The subtitle for the book is “Believing in God but Living Like He Doesn’t Exist.” I wonder if a better title might be The Christian Agnostic: Christians believe that God exists, but like the disciples in these prediction stories, we just haven’t figured out yet how God is working in our lives or what he’s really saying, and we’re afraid to trust.

I think a strong case could be made here for regular Bible reading as well. Some Christians complain that the Bible is too hard to understand in places, so they don’t want to read it. But how many times have those of us who have read through Scripture more than once come across passages that seem brand new to us? We know we’ve read those passages before, but for whatever reason, they just didn’t stick. But at just the right time, if we are faithful in reading his Word, God will reveal to us those things we need to know for our encouragement and strengthening. And if we don’t understand something right away, we shouldn’t worry: Jesus promises in Luke 12:11–12 that the Holy Spirit will teach us what we need to know and say when we need to know it and say it. That will be much easier to do if we’ve read our assignments ahead of time!

Other Musings

I don’t have time to explore this in depth in today’s entry, but after reading the parable of the 10 minas in Luke 19:11–27, I asked myself if the man who made himself king of a distant country is in fact Jesus in the story. I did a cursory reading of Blomberg’s interpretation of this parable (and its parallel in Matthew 25:14–30) in Interpreting the Parables, but he seems to think the element of the story of the man going off to be made king is extraneous to the core message of the parable. Still, I think something can be made of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees wanting to kill Jesus, and the execution of those who did not want the man to be king can be taken as judgment against those who reject Jesus’ lordship. The parable is rather harsh in this way, but it certainly warrants further exploration. Blomberg cites Josephus to explain this particular aspect of the parable:

This second parable closely parallels the details of the trip of Archelaus, son of Herod the Great, to Rome in 4 b.c. to receive imperial ratification of his hereditary claim to rule Judea, along with the Jewish embassy which opposed him and Archelaus’s subsequent revenge on the Judeans (cf. Josephus Ant. 17:299–323, Bell. 2:80–100).

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1 Comment »

  1. […] “If I’ve Told You Once, I’ve Told You a Thousand Times…” […]

    Pingback by The Passion Week of Christ « Sunday Morning Greek Blog — March 11, 2012 @ 2:18 pm | Reply


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