The scripture this week has all sorts of good tidbits, but let’s just start with the beginning. Jesus is once again trying to explain to the disciples what it means that he is the messiah. He is trying to help them see where this road is leading—the cross. We are then told that, “they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.”
I am reminded of some traveling I was doing in Germany many years ago. A friend and I had taken a train from Berlin to a small nearby town so that we could go and see a site. When we got off of the train, we then hopped on a bus that we understood would take us to the site. We were carefully counting stops to make sure we got off in the right place, but after a little while, we realized that the bus wasn’t stopping. This was before the day of GPS in your phone that would’ve told us we were going the wrong way, so in blissful ignorance we continued to ride along. Sooner or later we realized that we must have missed our stop, but we were afraid to say anything because it had been our experience in that small town that there were not many people who spoke English. We quietly started to try and figure out what we were going to do as the bus then started down a thick forest road and came to a stop at an empty station—clearly the last stop. The bus driver got up to go take his lunch break and noticed us looking bewildered a few rows back.
“What are you doing here?” he asked in perfect English.
“Uh, we were trying to go to visit this site and we think we missed our stop.”
“I’d say you missed your stop—it was the second one! Why didn’t you say anything?”
“We were afraid of looking like foolish tourists and we thought we would just be able to figure out where to get off on our own.”
“If you would have just asked me, I would have been happy to show you where your stop was. I think this is a bit more foolish than just asking for help.”
I don’t think that I am alone in the desire to do it on my own and avoid looking foolish. It is certain that is part of the problem for the disciples. Here Jesus is explaining once again what Messiah actually means, and once again the disciples are afraid to ask questions for fear of looking foolish. Yet, because they refuse to ask questions, because they refuse to ask for help, they continue to completely miss what it is that they are doing by following Christ.
Their inability to understand the sacrifice that Christ is to make, and Christ’s continued insistence that all of the work he is doing is about serving others leads them into a debate about who is “greatest,” and the ride the bus of ignorant bliss into the forest just like I did.
Why can’t we just accept help? Why can’t we ask questions? Why are we so afraid of looking foolish when one simple question could put us on the road to real wisdom? Why are we so intent on looking like we know what we are doing, when displaying true humility and asking for help would allow us to grow beyond the broken places where we reside?
I’d like to say that my most recent travels were marked by this kind of humility and question asking, but Tiff would be the first to point out that I continue to try to do it on my own. The funny part is that amazing things can happen when you are willing to ask for help. You might find that not only do you receive the help you ask for, but so much more.
When we were traveling through Scotland, we were trying to get from Edinburgh to St. Andrews. We walked into the Haymarket train station, and I was at a loss for which platform and what tickets we needed. I walked up to one of the conductors and humbly explained my status as a foolish tourist in need of assistance to know which tickets and which train to get on. He walked me through everything. As I was about to purchase a ticket for Grace, he stopped me.
“Hold on. You don’t need a ticket for the kids.”
“But it says right here that children over 5 need a ticket.”
“Well, how old is your daughter?”
“You mean she’s 5.”
“No, she’s 6.”
“I’ll tell you what, let me help you print out your tickets.”
At which point he proceeded to print out tickets for all of us, and not charge us for the kids. With a big smile he handed me the tickets and said, “You have the most beautiful children. Come back to Scotland and see us again when she is over 5. Enjoy your trip!”
Honestly, I think that Christ is playing the role of the friendly ticket taker in this story. He has been trying and trying to help the disciples see the joy of living a life that puts others first. He has been trying to help them understand that changing their world view about power will help them live more meaningfully, but for some reason they seem to want to insist on doing it their own way and refusing the grace that is being offered to them.
We would all be wise to ask for help, act with humility and deny the definitions of power that have come to form us. We might be surprised in the gifts that come from a simple moment of humility and a request for help.