Holy Week 2023

“Do You Not Yet Understand?” — A Holy Week Reflection

By Rickey Letson

The book Sons & Soldiers by Bruce Henderson tells the story of several Jewish young men who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and early 1940s. These sons of Germany ultimately became United States soldiers fighting against their homeland in World War II. In the military, they all served as interrogators of prisoners of war as they leveraged their knowledge of the language and culture of their native country to extract crucial information.

In preparation for this remarkable role, their training took place at Camp Ritchie in rural Maryland.  The soldiers became known as Ritchie Boys and served with distinction on the battlefields of the European theater.

One of the interesting things about life at Camp Ritchie was the initial reaction of the local community to these soldiers in the early days of their training. Hearing soldiers in the woods near their home speaking German led numerous Camp Ritchie neighbors to the logical conclusion that the Nazis had invaded and that the war was now being fought on their own doorstep. In other words, they mistook these new American soldiers as the enemy.

Remembering this scene from Sons & Soldiers reminds me of how easy it is for us to mistake a friend as an enemy or to misunderstand someone’s motives. 

The Lenten season introduces this same challenge through the story of the misunderstanding of Jesus as described by the Gospels. The Jewish leaders saw Jesus as delusional and as a threat due to his claim to be the son of God. The Romans worried that Jesus wanted to usurp their authority and institute his own kingship. Jesus’ followers struggled with the idea of messiahship believing that Jesus had come to establish some type of earthly reign. 

Many of these misconceptions were a result of attempting to understand Jesus without knowing him and due to a desire to always view Jesus through the lenses already created regarding their ideas of a Messiah. Few took the time to truly get to know Jesus by listening fully to what he had to say or through being willing to allow him to reshape their understanding.

At the conclusion of Mark 8, Jesus invites the disciples into an attempt to understand the meaning of the feeding of the 4,000. As their conversation concludes, Jesus asks a haunting question in verse 21 that serves as a good question for all the Gospels when he says, “do you not yet understand?”

What about us? Do we take the time to truly get to know others? Do we allow others to speak on their own terms rather than viewing them only via predetermined lenses? Are we open to seeing things differently? Can we admit when we are wrong about God or others? What does it look like for us to fully see and understand the movement of God or recognize in the other a friend and not a foe? How can we fully understand?

Rickey Letson serves as Congregational Stewardship Officer for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

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