The Second Sunday in Lent
Welcome to the Second week of Lent. Our gospel reading from Mark this week has all that one could expect from a reading during Lent as it draws us into the anticipation of the weeks to come: weeks of reflection on the journey that leads us to Holy Week.
Jesus begins with a summary of this journey: “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, then killed, and after three days rise again.” While this might sound familiar to most of us, we must place ourselves in the sandals of those who were hearing it for the first time in order to understand the gravity of this moment. A moment that will condemn us, but also give us hope.
You see, right before this proclamation of suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus has the following conversation with the disciples: “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” Jesus asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah”. And Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him.
The disciples get it! Jesus is the Messiah! Jesus is the one who comes and fulfill the Scriptures, the one who is connected to the covenant of God with Abraham and Sarah through David, who will come to conquer and rule the nations, who will lift up the Jewish people. The disciples have been seeing signs of this wondrous might with miraculous healings, powerful exorcisms, and an abundance of loaves and fish.
Or so the disciples think they get it. That is what causes the confusion in the previous exchange about Jesus’ identity. The Jewish population has seen the power of God flow through John the Baptist, Elijah, and other prophets of all genders. Hence the clarification, “the Son of Man must undergo suffering, must be rejected, must be killed, and must rise again.” Jesus does not mince his words here. Jesus says all of this openly.
Openly. The Greek word from which openly is translated is “parresia”. This word is only used once in the entire account of Mark. This moment in Mark’s account is important. “Parresia” can also be translated as unreserved boldness. Jesus speaks of what lies in front of him with unreserved boldness. Peter rushes in immediately and rebukes Jesus. In Mark, we do not hear Peter’s words of rebuke for they are inconsequential. What matters is Jesus’ own rebuke of Peter for it shifts the focus back into his words of what lay ahead for himself and away from a false image of the Messiah. “Get Behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things”. You feel it, I know you do, for we all do, Peter is afraid. Peter is afraid of Jesus suffering at the hands of those within his own religious community. Peter is afraid what this might mean for him. Peter is afraid and rushes in an attempt to protect Jesus and himself from the scariness of that of which he does not know. “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus, now making the connection that if his disciples do not understand the journey or maybe they do and are afraid of what it means, and that the people don’t know if he is John the Baptist, Elijah, or another prophet, realizes that he has a big problem. Jesus turns for all to hear…not just those who were Jewish, but all those under oppression….and drops some truth. “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. At which point, everyone in the area got real quiet because Jesus just said “take up their cross”. As those words wash across the minds of those present, we can use our creative imagination to think of the individual experiences of pain that the cross has brought to every single person in the crowd. The cross was a tool of torture, a device to silence those who disagreed with the Romans. All that the cross symbolizes: oppression, privilege, occupation, conquest….Surely this can’t be what Jesus is telling them to take up? Jesus, can’t we just go back to the miraculous healings, powerful exorcisms, and an abundance of loaves and fish? Those were the good times, we were not afraid, you brought us hope in all of those things.
What Jesus asks them in taking up the cross is impossible for them to comprehend for they are setting their mind on human things. In fact the only cross being taken up in the entirety of Mark is when we arrive to the actual passion when Simon of Cyrene is forced by the Romans to pick up Jesus’ cross. No one wants it because for them there is only one cross. They do not want to continue suffering and who can blame them? But for the divine to work through the oppressive systems in a manner that subverts the very nature of who and what causes them and renders them dust is the vision of the Messiah that Jesus is trying to communicate.
However, if we hear Jesus’ words, we can then assume that since no one willingly picks up their cross in the entirety of Mark, the community as a whole becomes ashamed of who he is, and he is ashamed of them. How many times have I been ashamed of the cross? How many times has Jesus been ashamed of me and my actions? These words condemn everyone. But these words give us hope.
For when we set our minds on divine things, when we do take up our cross for the sake of Jesus, and the sake of the gospel, for when we step into the boldness of the journey of lent, we find hope in the midst of this suffering. For the sake of Jesus and for the sake of the gospel gives purpose. Elsewhere in Mark, we hear Jesus speak of the unnamed woman who anoints him with expensive oil, with what she has, right before Judas agrees to betray Jesus: Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her. Scholars say of this unnamed woman’s encounter with Christ: “She is as bold and faithful as the woman who touches Jesus’ cloak, as bold and clever as the Syrophoenician woman who argues for her daughter’s healing.” She is bold. She is bold like Rosa Parks who was firm in the face of racism. She is bold like Emma Gonzalez, the young Latina woman who is raising her voice in the aftermath of the shootings in Parkland, FL. Jesus here is asking us to give what we have for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of Jesus. For the sake of Jesus…if Peter had only understood, he would not have tried to rebuke Jesus, to try and protect Jesus and himself from suffering, Peter would have stand alongside Jesus instead of taking him aside.
As a white man standing before you today, I have lost count of the amount of times my cross of white male privilege has been forced upon you to carry. The cross that is forced upon us, all the suffering that is forced upon us, especially and without a doubt on those who are marginalized in the United States and around the world: persons of color, the LGBTQIA+ community, women, children, differently-abled, those who are impoverished…this is not the cross that Jesus is asking us to pick up and carry. That is the cross that Jesus is going to die on. The cross of the oppressor. No, the cross that we are to pick up is the one that emboldens us because we pick it up for Jesus’ sake, and for the sake of the gospel as Jesus tells us. It is the one that says in the midst of all of this suffering there is hope. There is hope because Jesus comes alongside of us and can honestly say, I have undergone suffering at the hands of those within my own religious community, my own political community, and my own society.
So, today, let us follow Jesus’ words, let us remember the boldness of the unnamed woman. For this boldness of Jesus, of the unnamed woman is an invitation, a welcoming for us to be bold. For us not to skip over the suffering and only look towards Easter. To be bold to not shy away like Peter does from the journey of what lies ahead of Jesus. Of what lies ahead of us this Lenten season. A journey of pain and of putting things to death that need to be put to death. Of putting to death false images of power, false images of privilege, false images of oppression, of putting to death false images of self, false images of security, and false images of safety. Of putting to death the things that separate us from one another as a community and from God. We might have to shine light on hurts and pains that we ourselves have caused or that have been caused by others. This journey is not an easy one, it might be filled with shame and guilt. But those too will be put to death. For Lent is also a journey of life that needs to be resurrected. A journey of giving life to and receiving life from equity and equality for all, of giving life to and receiving life from positive self-care and image, of giving life to and receiving life from the neighbor next to us in the same crowd who is listening to Jesus say, it is time to take up your cross and follow me. To follow me on a journey of the unknown, and boldly proclaim that Jesus is there with us in this journey.