My experience of the Bible is that time and again words leap out of the page with new significance and new force. This happened to me the other day. I was reading Luke chapter 9, and suddenly the words of Jesus to his disciples made me sit up: “Let these words sink into your ears” (Luke 9.44). Or at least that is the way the NRSV renders them. ‘Wow’, I said to myself, ‘Jesus is being pretty blunt with his disciples with his disciples.
I checked the other major English versions, but they lack the bluntness and have Jesus say “Don’t forget what I am about to tell you” (GNB); “Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you” (NIV), “Listen to what I have to tell you” (REB); “Take these words to heart” (Revised New Jerusalem Bible).
I then checked the Greek text and discovered that the NRSV, which follows the AV (“Let these words sink down into your ears”) is a literal rendering of the original Greek. The expression is a ‘Hebraism’ which we also find in Luke 1.66; 21.14; and Acts 19.21, although here the “you” is emphatic in Greek: “You must put these words in your ears”. According to Luke, Jesus wanted his disciples to register well and truly what they will hear – and he did so by using graphic language to underline the importance of what they will hear.
Why did Jesus want his disciples to listen so carefully? The context is that Jesus has just healed a boy with a “demon” or “unclean spirit” (9.44). The crowds were “astonished at the greatness of God” (9.45). But Jesus, it would appear, was frustrated with them. He had not come to be a wonder worker, but to reveal the love of God which was eventually to lead him to the Cross. But the people did not see that – nor did his disciples. They longed for a Messiah who would display his power by freeing them from the Romans and restoring the fortunes of Israel. The concept of the Messiah as a suffering servant was far from their thoughts. But it was also far from his disciples’ thoughts.
Indeed, it may well be that Jesus was above all frustrated by his disciples. They had just failed to heal the boy with a demon. The power that Jesus had given them to cast out demons and to heal had gone (9.1-6). Fred Craddock commented
Have they grown arrogant with success and lost their relationship with the source of power. Had they failed to sustain that power through prayer? Has Jesus’ announcement of suffering and death [see 9.21] robbed them of faith and firm commitment?
This is the context in which Jesus again foretells his death. To his disciples he said: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands”. Unlike the first prediction (9.21) Jesus’ suffering is attributed not to “the leaders, chief priests and scribes” but to people (“human hands”) in general. But the disciples made no comment. Luke tells us that “they did not understand this saying” (9.45); but perhaps more importantly Luke says “they were afraid to ask him about this saying” (9.46). Luke may well have been hinting that they did not want to hear, as they perhaps began to realise that Jesus’ destiny was going to have consequences for them.
It was out of frustration, both with the crowds and with his disciples, that Jesus said: “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed to the people”. In this graphic way Jesus wanted to hammer home that his way was to be the way of the cross.
Love and not power would have the last word.
The question then arises: Is this a word that we too need to hear? The truth is that down through the centuries all too often the church has wanted ‘glory’ – glory in terms of power, influence, and wealth. To what extent is Jesus frustrated with his church today where leaders still crave for status and success in ministry, whereas Jesus talked of faithfulness and of a way of service that led to a cross. “Let that sink into your ears”!
More personally a further question arises: To what extent am I cause of frustration to Jesus, who went the way of the cross for me? What word of Jesus need to sink into my ears?