Lectionary blog for Oct. 21, 2012
21st Sunday after Pentecost
Texts: Isaiah 53:4-12;
Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45
Father Ed was pastor of a small Catholic church at the beach. One Good Friday morning, he removed the purple Lenten banners from the three wooden crosses in the churchyard and carefully draped the crosses with long black shrouds. Early that same afternoon, the priest received a phone call from the local Chamber of Commerce. A tense and angry voice said,
“Look Preacher, we’ve been getting some complaints about those black crosses out in your churchyard. Now, inside the church, who cares? But out front, where everybody can see them, they’re offensive. The retired people here don’t like them — they’re depressing! And the tourists don’t like them either. People come down here to get happy and have a good time, not to get depressed. It will be bad for business!”
The cross was, and still is, offensive, depressing and bad for business.
All three of our Scripture lessons make reference to the offense of the cross, the suffering and death of Jesus offered as a sacrifice to God and a ransom for our souls.
In Isaiah 53, we read of the person whom the scholars called “The Suffering Servant.” Though it is doubtful that the prophet Isaiah clearly foresaw a person like Jesus fulfilling this role far into the future, it is clear that Jewish religious thinking had made a connection between one or a few suffering and dying to spare and free the many. And it is no surprise that the early Christians — all Jews and all familiar with the prophetic writings — immediately recognized in Isaiah’s description of the Suffering One the life and death of Jesus.
Immediately before our Gospel reading, Mark shows Jesus clearly explaining to the disciples what is going to happen to him. Listen: “The son of man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.” And almost as soon as these words were out of his mouth, James and John ask him, “Can we be the #1 and #2 power people in a Jesus administration?” Obviously, they didn’t get what he was talking about.
So Jesus tries again. The talk about cup and baptism refers to the cup of God’s wrath and the baptism of death. Jesus refers to the cup again in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prays that the cup might pass over him. They still don’t get it, so Jesus just shakes his head and says, “You will suffer and die, but honors are up to God, not me.”
Hebrews 5:7-9 points again to the cross: “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all ”
Jesus was not suicidal, not a “willing martyr,” happily going to his death with visions of grandeur in his mind. He was not deluded. He was very much aware of what this meant and he struggled over it, crying out, as the text says: “to the one who was able to save him from death and he was heard “
This cuts to the very heart of the issue. Jesus knew that his path led to death. Jesus knew that God could save him from this fate. And Jesus was not ashamed to let his fears and feelings be known. What agony! “You could save me if you would! But you won’t! Why won’t you? Why won’t you? My God, my God; why have you forsaken me?”
“He was heard . ” the text says, and yet he died. And yet he died.
“Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered, and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation . ” That is the great mystery of our faith: that where we are — in the midst of sin and suffering, decay and death — Christ has been, fully, completely, totally.
Whatever is the worst that you have been through; no matter how scared, lonely, lost and forsaken you have been; Jesus has been there! Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Jesus has been there! Have you ever wondered how you were going to make it one more day? Jesus has been there!
And the promise of the gospel is that where Jesus is now, we are going. The gospel is that God brought Jesus through to the other side of the cross. The gospel is that God can and will carry you through as well.
God calls us to follow him. It is not an easy way, it is not a painless path, it is not smooth sailing. Jesus’ way is the Way of the Cross. But the joyous paradox and mystery of the gospel is — the way of the cross leads home.
For all of us — from the greatest to the least, from the oldest to the youngest, from the power brokers to the powerless, from the first to the last — all roads lead to, and through and beyond the cross to Christ.
“Who was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, upon him was the punishment which made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.”
Amen and amen
- When have you felt abandoned? Did you cry out to God?
- Can you think of a time when God gave you comfort?
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.