On Being Mishandled, Misunderstood, Misapprehended

Second Sunday of Lent

Mark 8:31-38

“Jesus spoke plainly about this.” I have never noticed these words before, at least not so conspicuously. Other translations offer “openly” and “frankly.” Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter without beating around the bush.

This had not been the case previously. He taught opaquely in parables, obscuring the heart of his message intentionally for the crowds, because “the secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.” And yet, his disciples didn’t understand, and Jesus had to interpret his own parables for them. I might chuckle at the disciples’ dimwittedness, except that I am certain I would not have been any smarter than they. 

When we reach Mark 8, the game has changed. Peter, that incorrigible spokesperson for the disciples, declares that Jesus is the messiah. Again, Jesus divides his disciples from the crowds and orders them not to tell anyone that he is the messiah. This information is theirs alone for the time being.

And yet, his disciples still don’t understand. Jesus explains plainly, openly, frankly what this means: suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, but now dimwittedness has mutated into willful ignorance. Instead of asking for more clarification—as in the case of the parables—Peter is just not having it, and rebukes Jesus. I might scoff at Peter’s obstinance, except that I am certain I would not have been any more receptive than he.

Jesus is God, yes? He is the source of all power and wisdom. And yet it astounds me at how okay he was with being misunderstood, mishandled, and misapprehended. Certainly, he responds to Peter’s rebuke quite sternly, since nothing would stop Jesus from his world-changing mission. That mission, though, includes and absorbs our misunderstanding.

Christ’s death on a cross can be seen as something of a cosmic misunderstanding. Jesus was not received as he should have been. Rather, he was rejected by the very ones he was sent to save. Jesus hung on the cross as a criminal, though he had done no wrong. Jesus died for our sins, though he was sinless. This was for the crowds, the elites, even his own disciples. He was consistently misunderstood and paid dearly for it, but that payment was turned inside out, and the result was the salvation of the world. 

It causes me to reflect on how we exist as the Body of Christ in the world. If you have ever taken a course on evangelism strategies or church-growth theory, you have heard means and methods for making the Christian narrative easily digestible to others. Even worse, obviously, have been the episodes in church history when coercion, violence, and conquest were employed in order to extract an orthodox confession.

I desire to live faithfully to the gospel as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. I also desire to make plain, open, and frank my obedience to Christ to my family, my neighbors, and my enemies. If I am following Jesus closely, walking in his manner, I can expect to be misunderstood, mishandled, and misapprehended. I think this is what carrying the cross must include, for many will ignore me, but some will respond in the way that the people responded to Christ: by attempting to control him, like Peter, or kill him, like the crowds and the authorities. 

However, my obedience to Christ includes the belief that this misunderstanding can and will be used by God for the kingdom, that my carrying the cross, my costly discipleship, my being misunderstood, is part of my bodily sacrifice to God that will multiply in ways that I have no control over, nor do I want to. I leave that to God, trusting that he is wise and powerful.

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