A Prayer from the Heart
Week of Sunday March 4 - Lent 2
Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
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. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But 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.’
34 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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.’
Mark Twain said, "Many people are bothered by those passages in Scripture which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always noticed that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand."
The end of Chapter 8 in Mark is very clear; I do understand.
‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For 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.”
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus says to Peter, “you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (21:18) I remember it this morning, because I feel bound, pulled by a constant calling to discipleship that is tiring and frightening.
Is there good news in the words of Jesus this week?
“Take up your cross” is a clear invitation to put oneself in harm’s way. The kõan “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake,” clearly presupposes loss of life. Whatever sense we make of it, life losing is central.
It’s here that I find a way through the challenge of Jesus, for life is full of loss. It does not matter who we are, how good we are, how rich we are, or where we are. Life is full of loss.
I made a little list for yesterday’s sermon; all the good people I know.
One of my colleagues has brain cancer. Another colleague, a great mentor to me, died from brain cancer. Another was killed in a car crash. My deeply Christian cousins have a daughter who is devastatingly crippled with a brain injury. Friends had three of their four children die in childhood; they are missionaries of the bravest kind, who stood in harm’s way and spared from a military massacre by blind luck, yet their children still died. The son of my rich, deeply compassionate, Christian friend, has muscular dystrophy.
And we all die, anyway.
Some of my tiredness this morning, and some of my sense of being pulled where I do not wish to go is simply because I am too much at ease! I am in a little bubble, spared for the moment, from that normality of life, which is death.
I’m sitting at the back of the house at sunrise. I hear pigeons and crickets; the noise of the highway is barely audible. I am cocooned. The coffee was good. Breakfast is assured. Life is safe. It is still cool.
The temptation is to think that this is life. The temptation is to think that this is achievable and sustainable—even to think that it will sustain me—and is not simply a passing moment of arbitrary good fortune.
Later I will go over to the shopping centre, to the bank. The whole huge mall is built to worshipping my little moment of good fortune; to sustaining the illusion that we can buy it, and build it, and keep it. The reality of life is on the outside, where I will be hit by the heat of the carpark, which swelters with the poverty-stricken, the diseased, and the addicted, who sit at the doors with their booze and cigarettes. Or simply hunch down in their wheelchair in the heat.
There always seem to be more wheelchairs in the poor suburbs.
I can see no reason that I am not in one of those wheel chairs, except good luck.
And we all die, anyway.
The good news is that Jesus offers me a way to die. I can choose the path. By facing death, by taking up my cross and living the way of the kingdom, I guarantee an uncomfortable life. I will never feel comfortable in the shopping centre. But neither will I be seduced by it into an easy shallowness which is no life at all. I will gain my life. I will save it.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.