Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ah, it has finally begun to cool off where we live. There is a hint of autumn crispness in the air. The new school supplies are bought and our son has begun grade four. In the lectionary we have been learning too – what might be new things about Jesus for us, if we have been paying attention in class. Like how even Jesus is a little surprised to find himself debating with a Gentile woman, who is seeking healing for her daughter, and opening the hearing and speaking of a Greek man. A Jesus surprised about the direction his mission is taking may not be what we are used to envisioning.
We get yelled at this week. Yelled at by both Wisdom and Jesus. In public.
After setting the stage at the beginning of Proverbs with the statement, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” [v7], we encounter Wisdom crying out, raising her voice. She is doing this in the street, in the public squares, at the busiest corner, at the entrance of the city gates. Only a fool could miss her. Perhaps she is standing alongside the poor, the lame, the blind and the deaf who are also in these places seeking alms. Wisdom sees calamity coming – panic, distress and anguish too. She cries out in lament for our love of being simple, our delight in our arrogant scoffing, our hatred of knowledge (which has been defined, remember, as being rooted in the fear of the LORD).
Wisdom is calling us to pay attention to her reproof. She wants to get us back to what is true before it is too late. She wants to pour her thoughts and words out to us – her thoughts and her words, not our own, that they might seep into our very bones and come to be embodied in our living and moving.
But we refuse, we do not heed her reproof, we ignore her counsel. What is it about our broken human nature that makes us want so badly to do it our own way? Is it fear, anxiety, arrogance – a mixture of all of this? How does this operate for us in our individual discipleship and in our congregations? The Hebrew word translated as reproof, towkechah, has within it the elements of correction and chastisement. Perhaps this is why we run away, like disobedient children from our chastising parent. It is so hard to be in that painful place. That space where we recognize the damage of our actions or inactions, where we see how little we really know.
And Wisdom brings warnings too – of the consequences of our unwillingness to repent. Death and destruction. Simple as that. And what will Wisdom do while we die? Laugh and mock us. Hmmm.
We have been closing in on the heart of Mark’s gospel the last few weeks. Moving from the first part of the gospel which has Jesus trying to hush up what he is up to – even as he causes new life, healing, and transformation to burst forth all around him – we come this Sunday to the hinge of the gospel that flings us into the second part: the question, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter proclaims rightly that Jesus is the Messiah. More stern orders follow from Jesus to keep this all hush, hush.
Then the trouble begins. Jesus starts talking about his rejection, great suffering, death and resurrection. That is what is in store for him as the Messiah. Jesus is open and unabashed about this. Peter is shocked, astounded. He takes Jesus aside and begins to rebuke him (rebuke is to reprimand, to reprove, chide, scold; ultimately it is to repel or beat back – from ‘buschier’, to strike, chop wood; wood from the Proto-Germanic “busk” or bush; the Greek word used is “epitimao” which includes in its definition to censure severely, to admonish or charge sharply). Peter tries to do this politely, by taking Jesus aside from the other disciples.
Perhaps Peter is thinking of the Wisdom text from Proverbs. At the end, Wisdom declares that those who listen to her will be secure, live at ease and without dread of disaster. The Messiah, also, is a title that carries freight – it is a loaded word that comes with many ideas of what it entails, least of all (if at all) rejection, suffering and death (let alone that mention of rising again) – death on a cross: “The most brutal kind of death by torture saved for subversives, the worst of criminals and rebellious slaves, offensive, ugly, instinctive revulsion, emotionally shocking” (these are some of the words the authors of Stormfront use in trying to free the symbol of the cross from its domestication as a piece of jewelry).
But Jesus is having none of it. He turns to the rest of the disciples and openly rebukes Peter in the harshest of terms. Jesus could very well be thinking of another text from Proverbs: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” [16:25] Jesus then turns to the entire crowd, even more publicly stating what is expected of his followers, of the church, of you and me: denial of the self (a willingness to lose one’s life, in all the myriad ways we can, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel), bearing our cross (picking up the burdens of others and risking rejection and worse in the process), and keeping our eyes on Jesus (not only for what Jesus has done but for what Jesus continues to do). This declaration is followed by two rhetorical questions that point to the true reality of all Creation, of how God operates. Put succinctly by John Howard Yoder for our day and age, “The alternative to how the kings of the earth rule is not ‘spirituality’, but servanthood.” As Peter’s first reaction indicates, all this doesn’t sell well, but it does save.
We might not be so surprised by this text, knowing the fuller story as we do this side of the resurrection. “That’s right, Jesus,” we might be saying, “Peter got it wrong.” But then we must remember that we are Peter. Where have we, like Peter, misunderstood and lost the Way?
But, I pray, may we also be like Peter in that we stay with Jesus, despite our blunders and betrayals, accepting our forgiveness and endeavoring once again to try better, because we are so loved. There is to me such love expressed for Peter in the next verse that follows this text: “And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
Here is the deeper truth of Wisdom’s final words in the text from Proverbs, not doing what is good and wise to just avoid a troubled life but resting in the assurance of our life in God wherein we discover security and ease without dread of disaster.
Oh to be loved so much to be yelled at, rebuked, died for…may God grant us the grace to heed and receive God’s great, steadfast love, for the sake of the world so loved.