Sunday 23 August 2020
I've probably read this sentence twenty times without really thinking about it:
They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid.
Sandwiched between Jesus explaining how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God and predicting his own death, this sentence is easy to gloss over as a mere connective, but it raises interesting questions. Why mention that Jesus was leading the way — didn't he always lead the way? Why were the disciples astonished? Why were those who followed afraid?
Fortunately in this case the context suggests satisfactory answers. Jesus is nearing Jerusalem, the seat of civil and religious powers who are hostile to him and his message. Everyone can sense an impending confrontation that will either end in his triumph, or if history is any guide, much more likely his death. (Spoiler! It will be both.) No wonder his followers are afraid. No wonder the disciples are amazed that Jesus is deliberately pressing on towards this confrontation — and perhaps that amazement gives them confidence to be less fearful than the other followers. We can't know exactly what Jesus was thinking at this moment, but it's easy to imagine him being afraid but driven onward by his Messianic mission.
With that in mind, this simple sentence paints an extraordinary psychological scene — a worthy subject for a painting or a short drama. Too bad those aren't my skills.
I expect to keep finding new treasures no matter how many times I read the Bible.