On Being Mishandled, Misunderstood, Misapprehended

Second Sunday of Lent

Mark 8:31-38

“Jesus spoke plainly about this.” I have never noticed these words before, at least not so conspicuously. Other translations offer “openly” and “frankly.” Jesus is getting to the heart of the matter without beating around the bush.

This had not been the case previously. He taught opaquely in parables, obscuring the heart of his message intentionally for the crowds, because “the secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.” And yet, his disciples didn’t understand, and Jesus had to interpret his own parables for them. I might chuckle at the disciples’ dimwittedness, except that I am certain I would not have been any smarter than they. 

When we reach Mark 8, the game has changed. Peter, that incorrigible spokesperson for the disciples, declares that Jesus is the messiah. Again, Jesus divides his disciples from the crowds and orders them not to tell anyone that he is the messiah. This information is theirs alone for the time being.

And yet, his disciples still don’t understand. Jesus explains plainly, openly, frankly what this means: suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, but now dimwittedness has mutated into willful ignorance. Instead of asking for more clarification—as in the case of the parables—Peter is just not having it, and rebukes Jesus. I might scoff at Peter’s obstinance, except that I am certain I would not have been any more receptive than he.

Jesus is God, yes? He is the source of all power and wisdom. And yet it astounds me at how okay he was with being misunderstood, mishandled, and misapprehended. Certainly, he responds to Peter’s rebuke quite sternly, since nothing would stop Jesus from his world-changing mission. That mission, though, includes and absorbs our misunderstanding.

Christ’s death on a cross can be seen as something of a cosmic misunderstanding. Jesus was not received as he should have been. Rather, he was rejected by the very ones he was sent to save. Jesus hung on the cross as a criminal, though he had done no wrong. Jesus died for our sins, though he was sinless. This was for the crowds, the elites, even his own disciples. He was consistently misunderstood and paid dearly for it, but that payment was turned inside out, and the result was the salvation of the world. 

It causes me to reflect on how we exist as the Body of Christ in the world. If you have ever taken a course on evangelism strategies or church-growth theory, you have heard means and methods for making the Christian narrative easily digestible to others. Even worse, obviously, have been the episodes in church history when coercion, violence, and conquest were employed in order to extract an orthodox confession.

I desire to live faithfully to the gospel as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom. I also desire to make plain, open, and frank my obedience to Christ to my family, my neighbors, and my enemies. If I am following Jesus closely, walking in his manner, I can expect to be misunderstood, mishandled, and misapprehended. I think this is what carrying the cross must include, for many will ignore me, but some will respond in the way that the people responded to Christ: by attempting to control him, like Peter, or kill him, like the crowds and the authorities. 

However, my obedience to Christ includes the belief that this misunderstanding can and will be used by God for the kingdom, that my carrying the cross, my costly discipleship, my being misunderstood, is part of my bodily sacrifice to God that will multiply in ways that I have no control over, nor do I want to. I leave that to God, trusting that he is wise and powerful.

In the Wilderness

First Sunday of Lent
So many moments fold into this one. 
 
A few weeks ago, my friend Shannon Schaefer wrote a stirring post on the baptism of the Lord. This week, we return to that moment in the first Sunday of a new season: Lent. 
 
In Epiphany, the baptism is a birth narrative, as Shannon wrote: “It’s a different kind of birth narrative, wherein the people of the story—past, present, future—are the family to which Jesus is born, and the prophet John becomes an unlikely midwife, handing us the Messiah. “
 
This week, as we begin the season of Lent and set our feet on the path towards the cross, this moment becomes a promise. The text reminds us of this, pointing back to the promise God gave to Noah in Genesis, “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.”
 
As Jesus rises out of the flood of the Jordan, a voice comes from heaven and declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you, I am well pleased.”
 
On the first Sunday after Epiphany, Shannon noted that “this is the moment of incarnation for Mark’s gospel.” This is the moment when the “Word of God is once again placed in the hands of the prophets . . . the God who entrusts self to human tellings.”
 
On the first Sunday of Lent, this moment takes on a different sheen. It is still the beginning, but now it is the beginning of our path to Easter Sunday when the Word of God will be hanged on the Tree of Life. As a Catechist, I have had the privilege of walking along this path with many people over the last several years. Typically, I come across four kinds of Lenten travelers: those who are actively deconstructing the faith of their childhood, those who are actively reconstructing a child-like faith, and those who feel lost in the despair that so often comes between deconstruction and reconstruction. The fourth type are those travelers who have walked this path before and are returning to see it with new eyes. 
 
As we enter into the wilderness with Jesus, which traveler are you this year? These aren’t one-and-done phases—most Christians I know are usually actively reconstructing, deconstructing, despairing, or seeing anew some facet of their spiritual life. Oftentimes, all four things are going on at once—but usually one will rise to the top for a season. So, how are you embarking on this Lenten journey this year? 
 
As Stephen Fowl reminded us last week, the life of faith is like “an invitation to your own funeral . . . the closer we follow [Jesus], the more we will die.” Stephen goes on to say that “this is the death that leads to true life . . . our lives cannot be one constant demolition site.”
 
So, where are you this Lent? Are you actively de-constructing something which was once the Gospel-truth? Are you caught in the despair that so often accompanies this demolition? Are you engaged in the hard work of picking up the pieces and building something new? Or have you returned from your wanderings in another place to see your faith with new eyes? 
 
However you are engaging this Lenten journey, remember you are not alone. Jesus is in the wilderness with you, and so are we. If the darkness closes in and you feel lost and bereft of all hope, I pray that God will remind you of the covenant made with Noah – that never again would total destruction be visited upon the earth. In your darkest moments when the rain is pouring down and all hope seems to have fled, I pray that you will look up and behold a rainbow. In those moments, I pray that the words of God will come back to you and you will remember that you are beloved. 
 
May the peace of Christ go with you, wherever God may send you. 
May God guide you through the wilderness, and protect you through the storm. 
May God bring you home rejoicing at all the many wonders God has shown you.
May God bring you home rejoicing once again into our doors. 
Amen. 
 
Photo Credit: Luca Galuzzi

Transfiguration

Transfiguration Sunday

Mark 9:2-9

 

“Six days later.” That is a strange way to begin a reading.  If you are at all curious, you are probably asking, “six days after what?” The answer, of course, is found in the previous chapter.  In Mark 8, six days before our reading begins, Jesus has one of his most significant conversations with his disciples.  In that conversation Jesus asks his followers “Who do people say that I am?” After spending so much time preaching, teaching, doing miracles, engaging in arguments over how best to follow God, Jesus wants to know what people make of him.  The response seems to indicate that people think Jesus is a prophet.  Then Jesus asks his closest followers, “Who do you think I am?”  Peter quickly responds, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Read more

It is Still Very Dark

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany

 

Isaiah 40:21-31

Mark 1:29-39

it is still very dark: a poem

I have not known,
nor have I heard,
and if I ever did,
I have forgotten in this
travailing dark.
I have not known starlight
for many weeks,
I have not heard shouts of good news
for many months,
but I am searching for it.
Searching for things restored,
for things to be again
in all their strength.
Searching for
that memory once forgotten,
that news once heard—
knowing well I will remember
and the sparrows will sing good news—
knowing well I will forget again
and will get up and search again,
but that is well
for there is time to search again
because it is still very dark. Read more

Certified Prophet

Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year B
Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Mark 1:21-28

Of all the the signs of crisis in our culture one of the most subtle is the proliferation of certificates.  It seems that there is a certificate for everything now, along with some official group to issue it and, most likely, take our money for the service.  For instance, one can become a Certified Special Event Professional (CSEP) or hold a Certificate in Career Readiness.  There are certificates for the mastery of various software programs, planning methodologies, and fitness routines.  There are Certified Dog Psychologists and Certified Beer Judges.  From one top tier university I found 31 certifications in leadership alone, from a Certification in Critical Thinking Leadership to a Certification in Servant Leadership.

Not all certifications are bad, of course, but their proliferation signals a crisis of legitimacy and competency.  What were once basic human skills, shared freely and developed in community, have become certificates that are given only after the consumption of some educational product.  And our judgement of those who are competent no longer requires our discernment of clear outcomes, but rather a glance at the frames on a person’s office wall.

Though there was no proliferation of certifications in 1st Century Palestine, the Gospel of Mark presents us with a Jesus who is stepping into a similar crisis of legitimacy.  Read more