The Scandal

Our Lord Jesus Christ was condemned, beaten, crucified, suffered and died. How could these things happen to God's beloved Son?

Mark 8:31-37
told by Deborah

Then Jesus started preparing the disciples for what was to come. He told them that the Son of Man must endure great suffering, be rejected by the religious authorities, and be killed — and after three days rise again.

He made no secret of it, but said it openly so that everyone knew about it. Peter took him aside and began scolding him.

But Jesus turned his back on him. “Don’t try to mislead me, Deceiver!” he told Peter, “You are focused on worldly pleasures, rather than heavenly treasures.”

He raised his voice so that the crowd that was there could also hear what he was saying, “If you want to walk in my Way, you must turn away from the world’s deceptions and follow me.

“Those who want to save their souls will lose them, but those who give their souls for My sake, and for the sake of the good news will save them. What good is all the wealth that the world can give — if it costs you your soul? Think about it: what is the price of your soul?

Photo of a flower

Reflection by Deborah Beach Giordano
March 4, 2018

Joe Disciple

In many ways Peter is Joe Disciple, the average follower of Jesus: he’s well-meaning, sincere, honestly believing that he’s found the messiah sent by God. Believing, that is, as best he is able. But, as with the rest of us, his best isn’t always all that we might wish for.

As soon as Jesus begins to warn his followers of the tough times ahead, Peter tries to turn the Lord from the Way that leads to Golgotha, taking him aside and scolding him, “Don’t say those things! Nothing bad can happen. We’re on the winning team! God is on our side. You’re divinely empowered, untouchable, unassailable, unstoppable.”

If Jesus really is the divinely-sent messiah, he should be a roaring success because … well, because God is on his side — and he’s on God’s side. The point is, God cares for him. A lot. Like a father for an only son. So Jesus should be well looked-after, protected, safe. As it is written: the holy angels will watch over him so he won’t even stub his toe, no matter what. Right? Surely God will take special care of God’s chosen one. That’s how we can be sure he is Who we think he is.

So here we stand, alongside Peter, with this incomprehensible Jesus, this One in whom we have so much hope and faith; a good man, a holy man — and perhaps something even greater — and he’s talking about suffering and scorn and rejection and death. This is not OK. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.

Don’t disappoint us, Lord. Be the kind of messiah we can believe in.

Get Behind Me

Jesus turns away from Peter's temptationAs he listened to Peter’s words Jesus heard again the devilish temptations he had resisted in the desert: to use divine shortcuts to success; to work showy miracles, to impress his audience, to control the world. But now these were all the more alluring because they came from a friend who had walked with him from the first days of his ministry.

Vehemently, angrily, the Lord turned turned his back on Peter, “Don’t try to mislead me, Tempter!”

Jesus turned away from the temptations of power — unwilling to grasp it or be intimidated by it. That wasn’t the kind of messiah he was. Power in all its forms can be used to manipulate, to coerce, to frighten, or force our acceptance of the will of another. Jesus didn’t work that way — and neither does the One who sent him.

It wasn’t about power; it never was. It was about the kingdom of God.

Divine DNA

Poor Peter simply didn’t get it, yet who can blame him? We are mere humans: we avoid pain and seek pleasure; power gives us a sense of control over both. But we are more than “mere” humans. Made in the image of God, we have divinity in our DNA.

In all that he said and did Jesus showed us how to embody the holiness that is our inheritance. He taught us to comfort, to heal, to pray, to forgive, to be compassionate, to be courageous; these things change lives — and require no miracles, only that we draw upon our divine nature: to love and to care, to bless and not to curse.

God became human in order to reveal our divine nature — that we might be fully human. The Lord Christ showed us a life expressing our compassionate aspect, rather than those who would entice us to be “mere” animals, red in tooth and claw. That Jesus — the Chosen One, the Son of God — would throw himself into the mosh pit of life proves God’s love for us. It means that God loves us not “despite” our humanity, but because of it. It means that God is not an aloof and uncaring observer, but deeply relational; loving, compassionate, caring.

But, Why?

But we are still left with the question of Jesus’ suffering. If he really is the divinely-sent messiah, Son of God, why do things turn out so badly? Why does His path lead to Golgotha? Why didn’t God show Godself and miraculously rescue Jesus from the cross? Where were the angels? Where is God in this?

angels weeping

The Word became incarnate and lived among us. We have seen that extraordinary love, the radiance of the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
    ~ John 1:14-15

In turning away from the temptation to save himself from suffering, at the same time Jesus was turning toward the crowd — toward humanity. Toward us. He did not scorn nor seek to avoid all that it means to be human, but willingly endured birth, growth, maturity, love and loss, friendship and betrayal, joy and sorrow, pain, suffering, and death.

God became human in order to reveal Godself to us more fully; to show us that God is in our midst, here with us in all that we are and do. God is with us in the fullness of our humanity. And God will do anything to be with us — anything. Even in suffering and shame and pain and death. Even in our darkest hour, God is with us.

Where is God in this? Right here, where we are. Always and ever.

Everything you know…..

Just like our friend Peter, we are prone to unthinkingly accept cultural markers of success — health, wealth, power, popularity, status, etc., as evidence of divine favor. But what about the experience of sickness, suffering, pain, loss, and death? When these strike us we worry and weep and despair like orphaned children.

Our mortality — the fact that our days here are numbered — is not punishment, but the condition of being human. It is a condition that Jesus entered into, fully, infusing it with divine grace, illuminating its shadows, proving that its power is only illusory. Death is not the end, but a transition; love is eternal: a path that leads us safely from this life to the next.

Jesus Christ our Lord

the divine invitation

Jesus could have turned away from his Father’s work at any time. He could have succumbed to the enticements of power and prestige or the allure of ease and comfort. He could have avoided the suffering and death and shame … But then he would not have been our redeemer, the Lord Christ, son of God; the One who taught us how to live.

Turning away from Peter’s temptation, Jesus repeats his divine invitation, calling out so the whole crowd can hear, “Follow me.” This is how to live: with courage and compassion, treasuring not what the world values, but what God values. Society will demand your absolute allegiance, it will hypnotize you with baubles and bluster, and promise you every sort of delight — but you will be sent away hungry, your spirit starved for meaning; your very soul sucked dry. If you follow Me you will be among the least and last in the world’s estimation, but richly satisfied: for you will understand not only Me, but the One who sent Me.

Fair Warning

Song of resurrectionIt is no secret: Jesus the Christ did suffer and die; this is “the scandal of the Cross.” It is the scandalous, shocking, undeniable reality that God’s love for us is unconditional, unlimited, and unflinching. God loves us to death — and back again. How astonishing, how humbling, how inspiring.

God is with us in all that we do, in all that we are.

Those crazy Christians; they sing hallelujahs even as they walk toward Golgotha. It is as if, for them, death has no sting.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on the fact that God loves you, absolutely and unconditionally. Feel it, deep in your heart.