Sunday, October 15th
“Jesus said all this quite openly.”(Mk. 8:32a)
Jesus didn’t fully explain what has happened once he was baptized. He didn’t make entirely clear to those gathered around him exactly why he healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead. He left people slack-jawed and silent because they couldn’t find the words to describe what they experienced in his presence. And when they did find the language, people questioned Jesus’s authority and faithfulness. Their questions reflected a sense of mistrust of Jesus; underneath, their questions revealed a sense of the grief they carried, and the wounds that continued to haunt them. Others had made promises that were too good to be true. God’s people held in their hands the ashes of the hope they once had. This hope went up like the smoke that billowed from the Temple as it was being destroyed. The more the peoples’ anxiety built, the more they went after Jesus. Not even this, as it turned out, brought people the peace and hope they craved. They couldn’t see the gift that held them. Instead, they grew more and more angry. They spread gossip – of course they did – about Jesus. They riled others up. They used their phones to engage other people in trying to get rid of Jesus. It didn’t work, of course, but that didn’t stop people from trying. (They didn’t have phones, obviously. But they communicated somehow, right?!) Why wouldn’t Jesus tell people what he was doing? What was he hiding? What didn’t he want people to know? I imagine people said among themselves, Jesus must be up to no good.
Jesus was up to something, but not what people had imagined. People were not amused. Instead of trust, people tried to decipher every little thing to cast Jesus as a fake and a phony. Jesus, we should be clear, did not waver by appeasing those whose voices grew loud, but whose hope grew thin. Instead, Jesus leaned even more heavily into his mission and ministry. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Lk. 5:31) This included everyone, even those critical of Jesus. It will likely not surprise you that this also raised the ire of those who demanded transparency from Jesus.
For all the ways he spoke words of comfort and hope and reached out and touched the untouchable, his way of being with those whose demands came neither from justice nor mercy, but entitlement, was to challenge their motives, and lay bare their real intentions. He knew – because, again, this is Jesus, and not us – how much grief and pain surrounded them. But he also knew that to protect themselves, their hearts had turned to stone, like a wall that reached into heaven on one end, and down into the core of the earth on the other. The circumference of stone wrapped all the way around them.
For hope to find them – and us – Jesus would need to deconstruct the hearts that had become stone, and to replace them with hearts in which love and grace and mercy would freely flow. Jesus is many things, but perhaps one of the ways he’s at his best – and the most frustrating – is when he does his kind of heart surgery on us. We don’t necessarily know how or when it happens, but Jesus is constantly at work in this way in our lives. In this way, Jesus embodies what the prophet Ezekiel describes, “I will give you a new heart…,” but then will add, “…and put a new spirit within you….” (Ez. 36:26) There’s not just a new heart, but also, a new spirit: one that longs not for transparency but rejoices in mercy and love. As I write this to you, I imagine Jesus breathing into our nostrils daily in the same way God breathed a new spirit into the first humans.
What Jesus said “quite openly” in the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel is that he would be crucified, died, and buried. This ran counter to what anyone might imagine would happen to Jesus. Yet, Jesus is completely transparent. And the disciples’ response is to send to Peter to stop Jesus from talking, not only because his words seem out of place for someone who was going to redeem God’s people. That kind of death was reserved for people who were sentenced to be humiliated and shamed for what they had done. The kind of death Jesus incurred would lead people, again, into an abyss of hopelessness.
Yet – and here’s the irony – in this kind of death, Jesus was transparent. On the cross, he showed us what true love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace looks like. He fully revealed that, “…power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) While his disciples hid among crowds who shouted for him to be crucified unto death, Jesus fully revealed what the fullness of love looks like, how mercy opens us to the suffering of others, and the well-worn path from forgiveness to freedom for all of us because, despite ourselves, we just can’t seem to get it right, no matter who we are.
This part of Jesus’s story in Mark’s Gospel, the part when he hangs on the cross and reveals the fullness of God’s mercy and love, is often described by New Testament scholars as the “Messianic Secret.” Yet, from this side of the story, when Jesus is also raised, is no longer such a secret. It is the very hope and promise into which we are grafted and nourished and sustained, no matter what. You neither need to hide from it, nor seek to justify yourself or your actions because of it. You are, it must be said, set free from all that.
You are –this is no secret – God’s beloved child, now and forever. You are – you can take Christ’s broken body and blood shed– held in hands of grace which will never let you go. You are – are you hearing this? – receivers of a new heart and a new spirit because of Christ Jesus.
In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Paul Lutter