Posts tagged Lent
Posts tagged Lent
John 20:19-21 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
Recently I was walking with a friend along the tiny river next to our house. Our dogs walked alongside with tongues happily hanging out the sides of their mouths. As we leisurely strolled back and forth the water’s edge, we discussed the feelings of Easter Sunday. “When I was younger I didn’t get it,” I admitted to her. The idea of waking up one morning to celebrate after a long time of suffering through life, working hard and never receiving justice did not make sense. It was a façade. And everyone was in on it. All of sudden people clapped, smiled and played nice. I had heard of Lent, the leading up to the Crucifixion, the period of abstaining and waiting. How did these church people produce such joy and rejoicing after a long time of silence, brooding sadness and growing anger? Often times, I was not ready to shed my sadness – to move into the joy of Easter.
“And what about the Monday after Easter?” I asked exasperated to my friend. For a few hours out of the day, Christians pretended not to be dysfunctional, not to feel regret, sorrow or anxiety. But following the service, those entrenched emotions of everyday seasons returned. “Easter is a hoax!” I wanted to proclaim but withheld my comment for fear of sounding brash and irrational. (So, I mention it on a blog for anyone else can read? Good idea.)
My friend listened to me and in her thoughtful and kind way. She did not seemed shocked, but rather intrigued, by my grapplings with the Easter season. She affirmed my doubt, my anger and my frustrations with a nod.
I always sympathize with the doubters, the blasphemers. I understand their need for proof, their fear of miracles, and their practical thinking. Death makes sense to me. Letting others down, I do that on a daily basis. But re-awakening from death, a spiritual and physical reappearing, that’s crazy. Overwhelming happiness in the midst of sadness, peace when all I hear about is war, they all seem paradoxical.
Much like my arrested state in Lenten sorrow, Thomas remains in the dark of Jesus’ resurrection. Left behind and left out from the experience of a miraculous Jesus sighting, Thomas remains faithful to his doubt until a week later. Face-to-face with the truth of Jesus’ presence, Thomas realizes the inhabitant of Jesus and his living, yet changed mysterious being. Jesus passed through locked doors, something more impressive than David Copperfield because it was not commercialized or flashy. And in his amazement, Thomas stands agape in front of his teacher whom he saw die a gruesome death. And Jesus like the other times (three total, in fact) he approached followers in this new way, extends peace. In the midst of chaos, in the midst of grief, Jesus shares peace with Thomas.
Although my initial perceptions of Easter Sunday did not make sense, Jesus speaks to my confusion in his address to Thomas and the other disciples. There is sadness, yes. There is war, death and anxiety, yes. Jesus does not gloss over these juxtapositions. Instead he acknowledges them. It is as if he says, “Despite it all, there will be peace.” This is the true mystery of Easter, the true definition of joy. Easter, joy and resurrection are not the absence of sadness, war or grief. Instead, they are an acceptance of it all. It is the complexity of the human experience. Love in the midst of hate. Joy in the midst of grief. Peace in the midst of conflict.
Peace be with you.
John 13:1-17, 35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.” After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them… By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
In a darkened chapel, an unadorned crossed lures mourners to draw near. Sorrowful gratitude often fills the hearts of those taking time out of their day to listen to an organ drone on in macabre melody. Christians gather to remember the last days of Christ, the final meal share with disciples and in John’s gospel the humble washing of feet. Parishioners often leave the service in silence, forgetting the final command of fourth gospel message.
The term Maundy Thursday for our services, also known as Holy Thursday, derives from the beginning of the Latin phrase (“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” - You should know I don’t know Latin and copied/pasted this phrase) of Jesus’ command in verse 35, “A new command I give to you, love one another.” The affectionate detail of John’s story of foot washing symbolizes the intimacy of the Christian community among each other and the importance of sharing intimacy with the world. Other’s, outside of the Christian church, become aware of God’s love as witnessed in love for one another.
As a woman working in ministry, it is easy to love those in your congregation who support women in ministry. Gatherings at conferences for women in ministry evolves into a support group and encouraging session of men and women all over working towards pulpit parity. However, Jesus’ Holy Thursday command of love for those in the Christian community who don’t accept or legitimize women called to ministry becomes more difficult. Some women, with the sting of time and dirty comments ringing in their ears, become bitter and vocally abrasive. Some women, abused by verbal desecration and rejection, shrink into a silence. Acting as a loving, grace-filled supporter of women in the pulpit, serving communion, leading Sunday school, or teaching in Bible classes is not easy. Too often the ugly shouting of hostility and resentment shrieks over the passionate but gentle words of a woman seeking reconciliation.
At his final meal, Jesus did not discriminate when washing the dusty feet of disciples. Judas, a betrayer, Peter, a denier, and other cowards all received the humble gift of cleanliness, forgiveness, and love through foot washing. What does this mean for honest women seeking ministerial positions? Most women I know are tired of working harder, pushing farther and covering all their bases only to be ignored, excluded, or chastised based on gender bias. Yet, the command of this sorrowful Thursday grimly reminds us to display our discipleship by loving one another… even if we are not loved (equally) first.
The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord GOD who helps me; who will declare me guilty?
Our passage today comes from the Suffering Servant’s songs in Isaiah. During exile, the unfaithful Israel complains to God. God rebukes in verse 2, “Is my hand shortened, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver?” The Suffering Servant enters to speak this poem. “I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.” In a world filled with hate, hardened toward the ways of God and sacrifice for others, the Suffering Servant tells the story of God’s deliverance.
In all honesty, this story too doom and gloom for me. I am reminded of Jacob Marley from A Christmas Carol or Tevye’s dream sequence in Fiddler on the Roof. Some ghostly figure approaches with a song or a poem. I just laugh it off and move on. However, the Suffering Servant is not a ghost-like mythical figure of Isaiah. The Suffering Servant unifies the voices of the suffering community.
Weeks after washing Wednesday’s ashes and weeks of drudging through life without caffeine or cookies, the Lenten season doesn’t want to end. Isn’t it time yet? Haven’t we mourned enough? A primary reason to read the story of the suffering servant! The suffering servitude community - Israel, represented in the Suffering Servant - feels weak, defeated, and wasted away. However, the community tells of the faithfulness of God. “The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near.”
In the midst of Lent, life happens. Cancer is diagnosed, chemo treatments begin. And in the midst of the long, dark period awaiting the cross, we suffer. And in our suffering we cling to hope. With our faces set like a flint we engage the danger, the anguish or the boredom.
Much like the image of Jesus, the Suffering Servant faces humiliation and death only to be redeemed by God in the end. The poem exudes from a weary community, holding on to hope that God will exult in the end. And sometimes it is only that glimmer of hope that gets us through.
The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the moneychangers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, ‘Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a market-place!’ His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’ The Jews then said to him, ‘What sign can you show us for doing this?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
When he was in Jerusalem during the Passover festival, many believed in his name because they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone.
The tale of “cleansing the temple” or more appropriately name “Jesus freaks out” is so important all gospel writers include it in each narrative. Jesus, the human, has come to change sacrificial practice and also certain fundamental understandings of God. Whether he turned tables earlier or later in his ministry, the fact remains that Jesus threatens the role of Temple worship by declaring, ‘[Someone will] destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ You see, Jesus alters people’s perception. Jesus is not saying Jewish worship of God is bad. Rather, if we choose to believe Jesus is the Son of God, then our perception of worship adjusts from sacrificial animal systems to a practice of the heart.
Often change is not so radical. Jesus’ toppling tables is not common among churches. Churches are slow to change. As a matter of fact, people are slow to change too. Only during significant life events, like the birth of a child or the death of a family member, do communities become radically different. For those of us without god-like biceps to turn tables, how can we affect change in our context? New York Times writer James Baldwin wrote in 1962, “Societies are never able to examine, to overhaul themselves: This effort must be made by that yeast which every society cunningly and unfailing [releases]. This ferment, this disturbance is the responsibility of its writers” The change from within is like the yeast permeating the bread. And the responsibility, going beyond Baldwin’s ascertain, belongs to everyone with a voice.
I have recently aspired to be a bread baker. Almost every Saturday morning, I rise unusually early for a graduate student without children. I stumble into the chilly kitchen in my sockless feet. As I dance back and forth, warming up my body, I switch on my kitchen aid mixer, testing its skills and preparing the machine for some grueling grinding and kneading of dough. Bread is quite simple to make. Stir four or five ingredients together until stiff. Beat into submission by skilled or unskilled hands for approximately 6 minutes. Then the dough rises. After turning on the oven, to heat the previously shivery room, the warmth permeates to steam the damp towel covering a bowl containing a single lump. That single lump, over one hour’s time, will stretch and strengthen to double its size. In the comfortable environment the yeast disrupts the other stagnant ingredients to push the dough outward, puff it up with strength, and as it realizes it’s potential to feed multitudes. Over that restful hour and a half the dough changes from a hard lump to a soft, pliable, nourishing substance.
This yeasty experience is like that of Christian person. Sometimes change comes rushing through like a Jesus with turning tables. Other times it is slow from within. However, at all times there is yeast, a change, bursting forth to enlarge, alter, and shape the new experience. The person is transformed.
But what if you are left unchanged? What if your relationship with Christ, whether warm and crispy out of the oven or stale and crumbly from sitting out too long does not create change. Then you, my friend, have a problem. The problem has a simple sounding solution that, when put into action, tires and individual out and ultimately gets thrown aside. Change is hard to deal with. Change is scary to face with the thought of failure looming. Things, practices, and difficult situations can only be changed when one stands up to face them. From small attempts like public speaking to crushing crusades against poverty and injustice, it takes great will power and hard work to live differently. It is not easy to love desperately, forgive graciously, or fight fairly. Perhaps if we were all pestering, neurotic individuals we could start food pantries, build houses with habitat for humanity, or bring about world peace. But the truth is, we’re tired. And transformation of our lives often takes much physical and emotional work.
But our table turning experiences can be discreet, small steps that don’t seem so shocking at the moment which later shake us into an altered state of being. Because of these experiences we realize the divinity of Christ and we face the transformation we are called to, whether willingly or unwillingly, we accept ourselves as imperfectly ourselves, and work towards a new life in the kingdom of God in hopes of the awaiting Easter and the rising of our Lord.
During the season of Lent we reflect the challenge to be ourselves in the command to follow Christ. And we push ourselves to transformative experiences, experiencing new things, growing in ways unimaginable, and becoming more openly who God created us to be. Change scares us but the change of knowing Jesus Christ carries to new heights and depths of experience as we become more fully human.
Salt March Day began in March 1930 during the British occupation of India. The British controlled the price and tax of salt on the poor people of the country. The poor were so burdened by the inability to purchase salt and the symbolism of oppression through increased salt taxes, Mohandas Gandhi led a protest march, calling for Indian independence through non-violence.
Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
The mystery of the poor is this: that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do for him. It is the only way we have of knowing and believing in our love. The mystery of poverty is that by sharing in it, making ourselves poor in giving to others, we increase our knowledge of and belief in love. - Dorthy Day
No one likes talking about the poor or the status of his or her wealth. Jesus’ parable warns against storing up treasures on earth. However, the consumer driven culture in which we live is counter intuitive to the teachings of Jesus.
A day of marching with the poor does not mean a politically heated argument concerning laziness, greed, or failure. Marching with the poor means solidarity. Despite class difference, educational background, or race, people collectively mourn the unfair advantages give to some and the bias abuses heaved on others.
In this peaceful march towards reconciliation and equality, we educate ourselves concerning present injustice and the best ways to alleviate poverty and the exploitation of others.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,
‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
Too often, Paul’s words have been used to abuse, silence, question or prevent biblical interpretation. Many assume belief alone champions serious study of scripture. When in fact, Paul’s words are hard to swallow. Belief in a distant deity becomes challenging when life throws challenges in the way of the believer. And faith is quickly shaken by cancer, death, natural disaster, and injustice.
Therefore, should Paul’s words be removed from the biblical text as detrimental to the cause of faith? Like all of Paul’s letter’s, he writes to a specific audience. The Corinthians, admitted a few verse prior, are conflicted. They each proclaim faith in those who baptized them, “I’m with Peter!” or “We follow Apollos!” creating dissension among them. Paul’s statement of faith does not say that critical biblical and thoughtful study are irrelevant. Instead, Paul encourages a belief in the faithful God to send his Son to die on a cross - not belief in a leader of a cause. Paul encourages a belief in the faithful God who led the Israelites out of Egypt and into the promised land - the God of Jewish heritage, not the God made up at random. We remember the story of God’s faithfulness through Psalm 19.
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hidden from its heat.
The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
the fear of the Lord is pure,
enduring for ever;
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer
The simple poetry of Psalm 19 leads us to faith in God through commitment to God. The first portion of the poem express the beauty of God in creation. Witnessing the never-ending rain and fog rolling through the city, or buds sprouting behind large trees this time of year, one sees the handiwork of the creator. Next, the poet tells of the beauty of God’s commands. The law of the Lord revives, makes wise, and enlightens. And at the close of the psalm, the psalmist prays to best communicate these understandings through everyday living. We pray, along with Paul and the psalmist, praising God for creation, celebrating our relationship with God through faith (in joys and sorrows), and anticipate entering the world to share the Holy Spirit with others all around us in our words and meditations.
Often times, during my Lenten experience, I listen to music while wondering about Jesus’ wilderness wanderings. As I prepare a meal, I work to the tunes of hard-work and diligence. And as Good Friday and Easter approach, I look for appropriate was to move through my sadness and ultimate joy. This is the playlist I’ve been listening to this season. Maybe you’d like it too.
Then God spoke all these words:
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
The Ten Commandments are controversial. Yet, their importance signifies the Jewish relationship with God portrayed throughout the Hebrew Bible. The commandments convey that God is of the utmost importance. One’s relationship with God transforms the individual and assists in life’s daily interactions in the community.
When recognized for relational importance, the commands are no longer oppressive orders people must obey in order to avoid receive punishment. Rather, commands offer instruction for helpful living in communion with God. In addition, commands engender honest relationships with God, self and others.
A.J. Jacobs, writer for Esquire magazine and professed agnostic, explored his tentative and distant relationship with his Jewish heritage before his son’s birth, discovering his connection with and validity of passing along Jewish traditions to his growing family when he wrote The Year of Living Biblically. Jacobs spent one year attempting to live literally by the 600+ commandments of the Hebrew Bible. Through his pursuit he grew a beard, wore traditional clothing, and threw rocks at people on the New York subway in attempts of “stoning.” Although the front cover depicts a man crying out carrying stone tablets in one hand and a coffee cup in the other, from his book, one gathers there is more to the Abrahamic faiths than ten commands. God’s relationship with God’s people is complex, thoughtful and at times strange. However, God travels with the Israelites out of Egypt, into the desert, and even during the Babylonian exile. God and humans maintain the relationship through communication and direction.
Although, the ten commandments are not the only commands in Jewish scripture, when read as commitments to a relational lifestyle, they succinctly retell the biblical narrative of God’s importance and the significance of genuine relationship with self and others.
Other commandments I might add:
11. Brush your teeth.
12. Ask thoughtful questions.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Jesus reaches the pinnacle of his ministry in Mark’s narrative, baring the bodily Messianic requirements for his disconcerted disciples. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again,” he openly over-shared with the twelve men and perhaps a small crowd in the background. Prior to this point in the story, Jesus commands healed lepers and the sick to keep his healing abilities secret. Even in chapter one of Mark, Jesus cleanses a leper and says, “‘See that you say nothing to anyone; but go, show yourself to the priest, and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.’ But he went out and began to proclaim it freely, and to spread the word, so that Jesus could no longer go into a town openly, but stayed out in the country.” The secrecy of his mission bought Jesus time to perform his ministry on earth. Otherwise, it is supposed, his pastoral care would discontinue in an early death. Here, in this brief gospel, Mark discloses the truth behind Jesus’ life, teaching and ministry. Rather than going out in a blaze of holy glory, Jesus reveals the humility of his painful death. Peter, the befuddled best friend, pulls his master aside to inform him of the misinformation. Jews believed the Messiah would act as a vitriolic task-master, seizing political control after defeating enemies in a warrior like fashion. This description of suffering, rejection, and denial defied previous expectations of the long awaited Son of God.
Jesus’ reaction to Peters rebukes shocks readers. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things,” he yells. Satan? Really? Even in a moment of heated anger that was his best attempt at slander? How uncreative. Pre-Shakespeare or J.K. Rowling, you can still come up with some inventive insults for Peter’s poorly planned rebuke. “Lumpish base pignut,” or “Saucy bawdy blind-worm.” In addition to well-worn words of unpleasantry, Jesus’ instructs his followers toward a similarly humiliating fate. He tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Who wants to lose his or her life? What entices one to deny the self or carry a cross even? Heavy lugging of a splinter filled, bulky cross does not sound like fun unless you are training for a boxing match in the Russian cold winter like Rocky IV. It sounds as if Jesus asks his followers to become mindless drones from an eerie George Orwell novel. No thanks. I’d rather be an individual with freedoms and rights – that’s the American spirit. Jesus’ demands are irrational and out of the question. No wonder Peter rebuked him. Right?
The Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk, wrote extensively about contemplative prayer. The peaceful act of meditation requires one to remove the lies and fabrications imposed from the world in order to fully accept the tranquility of prayer. These deceptive ideas of perfection prevent self-acceptance and love of self, reflections of God’s love for the individual. Merton in Open Heart, Open Mind writes, “Prayer as a method is based on the first two steps suggested by Jesus [in Matthew 6:6]: to let go of external circumstances and their turmoil and to let go of the interior noise of our thoughts and feelings, symbolized by closing the door to them.” Jesus’ call to deny the self in Mark 8 is not the complications of a mother putting her children’s needs before her own sanity. Instead, Jesus tells his followers to deny the false self: the belief of a perfect body, perfect score, perfect family, or perfect linguistic expertise. During the climax of his earthly chronicle, Jesus instructs all to embrace the true self. We are called to embrace our mistakes, faults, insecurities, fears and anxieties. In addition, we are called to embrace our stretch marks, wrinkles, bad cuticles, and seemingly never-ending zits. Even more so, we are to love and celebrate our talents, large and small, our fighting spirits, thoughtful attitudes, peaceful reconciliations. And we continue to strive to forgive, remember, hope, and cry openly. You see, Jesus does not call us to be mirror images of one another. He does not call us forget our history, the stories and memories that make us unique. Instead, Jesus says, “For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” Eugene Peterson’s colloquial translation The Message reads, “What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?”
In Mark’s seemingly harsh words, Jesus liberates the captives from a life of lies. We are allowed, in fact encouraged, to expose our weaknesses and possibly adorkable characters. Our quirks make us way more interesting, like Liz Lemon, played by Tina Fey on NBC’s 30 Rock. Emily Nussbaum, cultural writer for the New Yorker, celebrated Liz’s freedom for all saying we can be “strange, specific, workaholic(s), NPR-worshipping, [some of us] white-guilt-infected, sardonic, curmudgeonly, hyper-nerdy… In the first episode, Jack [identifies Liz’s character] on sight as ‘a New York third-wave feminist, college-educated, single-and-pretending-to-be-happy-about-it, over-scheduled… you buy any magazine that says ‘healthy body image’ on the cover and every two years you take up knitting for … a week.’” And the show, much like Jesus’ instructions, celebrates the sassy, confidence of a neurotic woman, giving me hope for my own impending future.
For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.
Faith is probably one of my least favorite subjects because it is so mysterious. It cannot be easily defined. It cannot be agreed upon. Faith muddles things. And eventually, if you live a life of faith long enough, you will experience a crisis of faith: an impasse, where you grandmother is disappointed in you, your friends seem distant, and your belief system cannot be easily explained. I experienced my own faith crisis several years ago.
I began attending Hardin-Simmons University in the fall of 2004. While there, I studied theology and learned to challenge the traditional gender roles taught and assumed in my previous churches. I studied theology with an eye toward graduate school and the dream of becoming a professor. During my college years, I fell in love with a man, and we decided to get married. Several weeks after announcing our engagement, my then fiancé decided he no longer believed in God. He believed there was no proof, rational or otherwise, for God’s existence, and his new found atheism quickly turned into bullying. For me too this was a time of faith crisis. While trying to decide if I believed in God, trying to decide if I could love a man who did not believe in God, I came to an impasse. For the future of my marriage, children, and life, I had to choose between a man I could see, touch and love and a God who seemed silently distant and required “faith” for existence. After months of wrestling with God, I decided to call off my engagement. I envisioned raising children who would have the opportunity to be nurtured in the Christian faith if they desired, and I feared that the man I was marrying would be a stumbling block to them. So, with humble confidence, I chose to serve a mysterious God, who I cannot always explain but who evokes peace and hope to a world that so desperately needs it.
Even though I destroyed a relationship with someone I cared deeply for on the basis of faith, I am not always confident in my belief. I will never be remembered as an Abraham or Sarah. Some days, when the warm wind blows and the trees dance, I might feel closer to God. But dark days of depression and anguish loom as well, when I feel God is distant or lacking. It is a darkness inside of me that will always be present.
Mother Teresa, care-giver to the dying in Calcutta, lived with her own darkness for most of her ministry. So often we picture her with an awkward smile, limp feet and the joy of love to share with others. In the evening light she wrote to spiritual advisers, “Tell me, Father, why is there so much pain and darkness in my soul?”
Faith is not a band aid to fix problems. It is also not a miracle worker. The Hebrew Bible tells of Abraham’s belief he would father many nations. “Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’ according to what was said, ‘So numerous shall your descendants be.’” The birth of a son meant God’s favor. It meant the continuation of Abraham’s family line and honor. Abraham did not have faith hoping to be famous. He did not have faith in hopes of recording a miracle of his barren wife’s pregnancy. Abraham’s faith, hope against hope, was to find peace and honor with God in the end.
In 1962, Mother Teresa wrote of her possible sainthood, “If I ever become a Saint - I will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from Heaven - to [light] the light of those in darkness on earth.”
May we also be saints of darkness.
Read this article for quotes about Mother Teresa and her crisis of faith.