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.

Setting Your Mind on Divine Things

Seventeenth Sunday After Pentecost
Proverbs 1:20-33
Psalm 19
Mark 8:27-38

Wisdom is saying some weird things, and quite publicly too.

In my tradition, we follow the semi-continuous readings from the Old Testament as outlined in the Revised Common Lectionary for the Season After Pentecost. Unlike the lectionary readings during such seasons as Easter and Christmas, the first reading and psalm are not chosen to jive with the readings from the New Testament. But there is a certain convergence in these readings for this coming Sunday, which is perhaps not so surprising given that they are all biblical texts. Read more

Developing the Negatives

Transfiguration Sunday
Mark 9:2-9

I am just old enough to remember photography before the digital age.

As a teen I used to save up my $8 of allowance, which came every two weeks, to buy rolls of off-brand 35mm film. These I would load into the back of my camera, which was a little too large to fit comfortably in my pocket, and then I would have exactly 24 chances to get the photo shot I was hoping for. After the film was used, I would take it out of the camera, snap it back into the film canister case it came in, and take it to the local department store photo center – in my case, Walmart. And then I’d wait. Read more

The Last Word

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

Hosea 1:2-10
Colossians 2:6-19
Luke 11:1-13

This week’s lectionary readings invite a nuanced continuation of the theme developed last week by Jessie Larkins, who juxtaposed God’s blistering and apparently final judgment upon Judah from Amos 8 (vv. 1-12) with the very different message of Colossians 1:15-28, where judgment is leveled not so much against a people as an idolatrous way of life that the Cross of Jesus makes it possible to abandon. Again this week we are offered a word of prophetic judgment (from Hosea) and a reiteration of the author of Colossians’ account of what transpires in the cross. However, in both texts we discover a delightful comedic turn that opens to us the possibility of seeing ourselves and our world in surprising new ways.

The passage from Hosea is the familiar story of the prophet’s commissioning. Hosea is told by the LORD to marry a prostitute and have children with her; their marriage is to be a metaphor for Israel’s relationship to God, inasmuch as “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”

The names given to the three children made by the marriage are all indicative of God’s impending judgment on Israel: The name of the first son, Jezreel (“God sows”), is evocative of God’s judgment on the house of Ahab and Jezebel, which came in the form of an extremely bloody coup d’etat which began in the valley of Jezreel. The second child, a daughter named Lo-ruhamah (“not pitied”) suggests God’s mercy toward Israel is being withdrawn. This is affirmed when another son, Lo-ammi (“not my people”) is born; this name portends not simply the LORD’s withdrawal of mercy, but his outright abandonment of the covenant—“for you are not my people and I am not your God.”

Judgment, however, is not the last word in the passage. Read more

God, Presidents, and the Running of the World

The Ekklesia Project does not endorse political candidates, nor does it take positions in partisan political controversies, but its friends and endorsers live in a world in which Karl Barth urged Christians to read both the Bible and the newspaper, interpreting the latter through the former. Debra Dean Murphy, an Ekklesia Project endorser and leader, takes Barth’s approach as the already tiresome political season enters a new phase.

An excerpt:

Would-be American presidents may always feel this pressure—either from within or without—to cloak themselves in religious garb, sometimes heavily, sometimes lightly; to see themselves as saviors of a sort, as those called to run “the greatest country in the world” and thus have a powerful hand in running the world. This seems laughable when it comes to the kind of servant leadership, the kind of counter politics that a crucified messiah asks of his followers. But it’s not funny. Especially when the religious rhetoric we’re hearing is so charged with murderous hate.

Read the full post on her blog.