Sunday, March 04, 2012

Cherry Picking

James 1:19-27
Mark 8:31-38

Among the many disputes Judaism has with Christianity is the unthinkable notion of "human sacrifice" as a means of atonement or for the appeasement of any "god", let alone YHWH.  The Lord's people are clearly prohibited from such practices, yet a certain perspective on Jesus' death insists upon the Lord's requirement of this event rather than mere prediction of a tragedy that WILL happen.  What are we to make of this?  Why is it that our Holy God and Father would make such a demand that contradicts His own Law?  Was there really no other way to reconcile humanity with the Father except through this exceptionally cruel act?  Especially when this cruel act alone emphasizes the total - and universal - rejection of Jesus as Messiah?  And what does it say about US if we believe this one event defines the whole of our faith?  That we cannot be "Christian" unless Jesus suffers and bleeds? 

Scholars and theologians have debated the nature of the Crucifixion for centuries, but these historic and doctrinal debates have stemmed more from discussions on the very nature of Jesus Himself - whether He was divine as "Son of God" or whether He truly was a mere "son of man" but with prophetic status AND royal lineage (i.e., "son of David").  Any number of scripture passages can be - and have been - used to justify a particular perspective, and we are left with the notion that maybe it is not for us to figure out.  Maybe it "just is".  Maybe we should be fine with it "as is" and just leave well enough alone. 

Maybe.  I just don't think so.  I do not think a responsible disciple can simply acknowledge the death of Jesus, say "thanks for the blood", and then go about his or her own personal business as if nothing happened - or as if what happened is only "incidental" to real life.  And I think this is the entire disciplinary focus of Lent and is perhaps also part of the reason why so many Christians today just do not engage Lent like they once did. 

More is the pity, too, because to dismiss Lent as "unnecessary" is to disengage from the WHOLE life of Christ and its WHOLE purpose; not unlike resting in a small portion of a scripture passage without appreciating the totality of the context in which the passage is used.  This truly does define "cafeteria Christianity" in which we pick and choose "statements" we like - and toss the rest, including the appropriate and defining context, aside; that context which gives these passages their true and fullest meaning.

When James calls upon the faithful to go beyond only "hearing" the Word and actively respond to the Word by "doing" it, he uses a curious analogy of a mirror that actually speaks directly to what it means to "hear" only that which we want to hear - but - ignore that which we just don't feel like doing or would rather not face... and feel perfectly justified in so doing.  We see what we see in the mirror and can be just fine with what we see, but we look no closer.  We don't "consider" anything other than what we see; we just see "what is" but fail to realize that the mirror image is one-dimensional; a very small portion of the WHOLE.  The mirror image does not reveal the not-so-attractive inward parts; those we can keep safely hidden and refuse to deal with them - or fail to deal with them ... to our spiritual detriment. 

It is not enough to only look, of course, because there is much more to us than a physical image, must more that will endure as the physical begins to deteriorate.  Jesus had an image before He was utterly rejected not only by the religious authorities of the day but also by the very crowds that had only days before proclaimed "Hosanna to the Son of David!"  And it was easy for them to do so because up to that point, it seems Jesus had asked much more than He had offered - except to the formerly blind, of course, or the formerly possessed or the formerly leprous or the formerly hungry or the formerly lame.  These many obviously saw much more than the physical image of a Gentle Man - and so did the many who witnessed these Divine Acts.  But how quickly we are inclined to forget.  OR how quickly we realize "they" got something, but where is "mine"? 

As Jesus' time approached, however, Mark states "He began to teach" His disciples of His coming rejection before finally being killed - after which time He will be raised up.  This is just one of many passages that makes me wish I could read the ancient languages because the word "teach" is used rather than "tell".  The context suggests this conversation was much more than just Jesus mentioning something in passing.  To "teach" indicates there was much more being said; it would suggest Jesus not only "told" them of the things which were to take place but also perhaps "explained" to them why these things were going to happen. 

Clearly Peter missed something.  Even assuming a detailed explanation from Jesus, Peter was not prepared - or willing - to accept the totality of this strange "teaching".  Recall that prior to this passage, Peter had declared Jesus to be "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (Mk 8:29), the "Messiah", the "anointed One" - just like King David.  It would have made no sense to Peter that such a One as this could or would be so "man-handled", let alone "killed"!  Yet we also hear clearly Jesus' Divine rebuke of Peter's good - and very human - intentions.  But as the saying goes, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

That Peter was more mindful of "human things" than of "divine things" makes me wonder if Peter simply stopped listening after Jesus mentioned He would be "killed", thus missing the part about Jesus being raised after three days.  We cannot blame Peter, of course, because we are geared the same way.  We hear what we want to hear, but we stop listening when the conversation becomes too challenging or does not give us what we want.  The ironic thing was that Peter heard the "bad news" but completely overlooked or ignored the "good" that would come from such a tragedy. 

It is the same way in which the "old school" United Societies of the early Methodist movement would hold one another accountable by telling a member of the class something they did not want to hear but perhaps needed to hear.  We don't "do" accountability anymore except from the pulpit because the preacher can paint with a very broad brush without getting too close.  It is much safer that way; yet less personal, less relational - and therefore much less risky. 

The Journey of Faith, however, is entirely RISKY but made much less so in the fellowship of the Church filled with disciples willing to share our risk.  The world we live in is hostile to this Journey to which we are called because this Journey makes no sense to a world condemned to darkness, a world judged and condemned with "eyes that cannot see" and "ears that cannot hear".  And the world rejects this Journey for this very reason: The Cross; the "foolishness of the Cross".  Either there is too much inappropriate emphasis on The Cross (as demanding Jesus' blood but refusing to respond), or there is not enough appropriate emphasis on The Cross (acknowledging the reality and necessity of sacrifice on the Lord's part - and ours); thus defining "true love".

Here is the reality of our Journey.  The Cross cannot be simply dismissed as having already been done because Jesus clearly requires as much from those who will "take up the cross and follow" Him, as He told His disciples just before He went into Jerusalem: "You will indeed drink My cup and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with ..." (Matthew 20:23; Mark 10:39)), referring to those apostles who will carry on His ministry after He has departed this earth - and who will ultimately lose their lives for the sake of that Church, the very Church you and I are charged with and equipped for supporting today.  In WHOLE - not in "cherry picking" only the parts we like.

We may not be apostles, but we are no less disciples of Christ.  We do not have to understand the mystery of the Divine Nature of the Cross, but we must face its reality in our lives, in our own journey as the "Body of Christ" the Church.  We cannot avoid or ignore our own crosses (Mark 8:34) and still expect or demand the blessings.  This is the Journey of discipleship.  It is A "choice", but it is "THE Way" to the Father.  It is Christ our Lord, the Eternal Covenant.  Amen.    

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