What Are You Going To Do?
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased."
And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news."
Mark’s gospel account reads like a report. This passage is 6 sentences. Seriously. And it covers John baptizing people in the Jordan, Jesus coming to him for baptism, the voice of God claiming Jesus as God’s son, the 40 days in the desert, the temptation by Satan, and the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. 6 sentences. Bam.
Mark is not fooling around. He is getting the information down.
To me, Mark’s account conveys a sense of urgency, a need for information. This is not “come sit by the fire and let me tell you the most amazing story…”
Someone wants to know what the hell happened here?
I imagine Mark’s account to be a response to that urgency. It’s dense; it’s telegraphic; it’s just the facts, ma’am.
Someone wants to know, What the hell happened here?
and Mark starts out by saying, chapter 1 verse 1:
“Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ”--
That’s verse 1. It only takes him 8 verses to get to “Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.”
Mark is telling this story as fast as he can.
Do you get the sense that there’s no time to waste?
What happened here?
It’s a good question for us at the beginning of Holy Week.
Now is the acceptable time, Paul tells us in his second letter to the Corinthians. No more waiting. There is good work to do and there is no time to waste. Right now.
So let’s talk about reconciliation. Let’s look at what happened here, and what it is we think we’re doing here, today. Right now. The hard stuff. Let’s talk about the hard stuff.
I want to talk about where all this is heading. The season of Lent leading to Holy Week leading to Easter.
Every year, we spend 40 days, excluding Sundays, preparing to remember the betrayal of Jesus by his friends. His arrest and crucifixion and death. The burial. The confusion and chaos. The empty tomb.
What I always want to know is,
How did this happen? How did they let it— how is it that things went this far?
Was it necessary? Was it necessary for our salvation that Jesus died in this horrific way, at the hands of human beings? Why?
Who requires? What kind of God requires that level of agony and degradation? What kind of God requires that human beings torture and destroy the innocent as a condition for granting salvation to the lost?
Why did Christ have to die?
Because Jesus was human. And we tied him to a couple of wooden planks, drove metal spikes through his wrists and ankles, and set him upright until he drowned in his own pleural fluid, that’s why.
When you do that to a human, he dies.
It really is, I have come to believe, truly as simple as that.
Why did Jesus die? Because we killed him. That’s all. That’s why.
I say “we,” because even though you and I were not physically and temporally present, we are connected to those who were. We are connected through our shared capacity, in our very worst moments—not all the time, and not exclusively, but in perhaps only the one or two moments in our lives when we are not at all the persons we want to be—our capacity to engage in acts of destruction, acts of which we are later so deeply ashamed that we lock them away and cannot bear to think of them.
It is not my intention to “make” anyone feel ashamed or guilty, or to take on guilt or shame for someone else’s actions. It’s not necessary, because I don’t think I’ve ever met a person past the age of 8 or 9 who was not familiar with shame. There’s already too much pain and shame in the world. What I want to suggest is that each of us look with some compassion at those moments of shame that already exist in our own lives,
and recognize that this is just the way it is for us: this is the human condition--we are not always at our best.
We are not always the people we would like to be. Sometimes we fall down hard. All of us.
Only compassion allows me to look at those moments of my life. Without compassion, I can’t do it. I cannot. I cannot hold that shame unless I realize that this is the hand we are all dealt. None of us gets it right all the time, and we really are all in the same terrifying, open, and very leaky boat.
When I can do that, when I can find the compassion that enables me to look at my own life, then I can engage the story of Good Friday. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t there and didn’t do it,
once I realize and face the fact that
if I had been there, I could have done it. If I were at my worst.
If I felt threatened enough,
if I felt betrayed and terrified and angry and helpless enough,
I could have done all of it. I could have sold Jesus out for the “greater good”,
I could have denied knowing him in an attempt to control and contain the damage,
I could have fallen asleep in the garden and run away from the soldiers.
I could have washed my hands of my responsibility for enacting justice.
I could have just followed orders.
I could have done as I was told.
I could have acquiesced to the authority of those in power
and abdicated my agency to stand up and speak out.
Not all the time. Not even most of the time, maybe.
But in my very worst moments, those few moments in my life when I have been least myself,
when I have been the most alienated from my own heart and soul and mind,
when I have felt most helpless and most isolated—
then, yes, I could have. Caught at exactly the wrong moment—
I could have done it.
God does not require Jesus’ death on the cross as recompense for our badness.
We are the ones who require it—-simply by being capable, in our worst moments, of such atrocities.
The good news of the crucifixion is that it is something that each of us, at our worst, is capable of doing. Jesus dying on the cross is the manifestation of our very worst.
We have, quite literally, done our worst--
and God still lives;
God is still God, and God’s love for us is unchanged.
We have done our worst. We have done our worst. Christ has died.
And Christ is risen.
And Christ is coming, again. And again. And again and again and again.
Christ had to die because we are capable of killing him.
It’s as simple and as horrifying and as bewildering and as heartrending as that.
Jesus died because we are capable of killing him.
Because the fact that we are capable of killing him
is why Jesus came to us in the first place.
God knows that we are in such bad shape
that our eventual response to the presence of God’s Incarnate Word among us
will be to nail him to a cross until he can no longer breathe and his heart stops beating. Jesus dying on the cross is the physical enactment of our absolute need to be rescued.
That, right there, is what God moves to save us from—-not by intervening and preventing us from doing it: because we’d still be just as capable of it, we’d still be just as broken.
God saves us by being God, by staying with us through all of it and by being God,
the same God who told Moses, “I am that I am.”
Jesus’ death was not “necessary”; it was simply inevitable.
As inevitable as God being God and raising Jesus from the dead.
Because God is still God: Creator, Spirit, Word, one God.
Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ is coming again.
We have done our worst; and even our worst cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 8:37-39]
That, my brothers and sisters, is good news. That is the good news that our brother Mark is telling us with such urgency and determination. That’s the story that he is telling as fast as he can.
That is what is happening here. Today. This day.
No matter what we have done or not done, no matter whom we have hurt or failed—-
God is still God.
And we are loved relentlessly.
We can begin again. We can come up out of the water and see the heavens open
and the Spirit descending upon us
and hear the voice of God naming us as beloved children
We can begin again. Right now.
Now is the acceptable time.
There is good work to do and there is no time to waste.
You are loved relentlessly—-relentlessly loved,
Beloved and cherished. Right now.
What are you going to do about it?
yours in the struggle,