Lent 2B, March 1, 2015

March 3, 2015

What Was Jesus Thinking?
Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Sharla and I had a nice adventure last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. We literally slipped up to the lodge at Mt. Magazine State Park as the snow began to cover the road. It was some good drama. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it. The snow was falling harder and harder and it was getting darker and darker and colder and colder as we ascended the mountain. Sharla had gotten in the back seat to eat something at some point on the drive, and she had decided that was a good place to remain. But she was being a good back-seat driver – she would just calmly remind me every now and then that it would be better to slide off on the ditch side of the road than the drop-off side.

We were so relieved to pull up under the majestic covered driveway of that lodge.

It was great to be up there for last week’s first snow episode. We had been hoping to get up there under those conditions and we timed it just right. Sharla did have a bit of a scare when we first got there. She went to the room while I went to park the car – which took me a little longer than she thought it should have, and she couldn’t get the door key-card to work. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that Stephen King movie called The Shining, but if you have you know what kind of creepy feeling she had for a moment as she stood in the deserted hallway of that snowbound lodge. If you haven’t seen the movie don’t worry about it – it has nothing to do with Jesus.

And it’s the drama that surrounded Jesus that we’re here to talk about this morning. There’s a lot of drama going on in this morning’s scripture, but it’s not good drama. Today’s scripture is the story of the bad reaction Jesus got from Peter after he told the disciples what was about to transpire in Jerusalem. Peter didn’t like what he heard Jesus saying, and Peter told him that it was a bad idea. Jesus then jumped on Peter for saying what he said. Jesus had set a clear course, and Peter engaged in what we might call some unwelcome back-seat driving.

But I get where Peter was coming from. It’s always easy for me to get in to the mind of Peter. It’s not so easy for me to get in to the mind of Jesus, but I get Peter. Peter had his own plans – he thought he could see where this thing with Jesus was going and he liked it. They were headed to the top! Things were falling in to place. People were talking about Jesus. People were looking for Jesus. People were getting excited about Jesus. Things were about to start happening in Israel. It had become clear to Peter that Jesus was the real deal. He considered him to be the savior of the nation – Peter had just made that pronouncement. He had just finished professing his belief that Jesus was the messiah. And that was no small deal – such a belief had profound implications! Unfortunately he didn’t understand what those implications really were.

Actually, Peter’s plans made a lot of sense – in a human sense. It makes sense to want to replace terroristic systems with more humane systems. And it’s not that Peter’s plans were poorly motivated. The way the nation of Israel was being run was horrible. The Roman installed governor had no concern for the wellbeing of the people of Israel. The system was designed to keep Roman rule in place at all costs, and it was a very costly system. The people were heavily taxed and the policies were violently enforced. The Jewish collaborators substituted allegiance to God for job security and material comforts, and you can’t blame Peter for wanting this ungodly arrangement to go down in defeat by the hand of this man of God.

What made sense to Peter was for Jesus to fix their broken nation. Peter expected Jesus to somehow assemble an army that God would somehow empower to overthrow those dirty collaborators and their godless government. I think it’s the same logic that I saw illustrated on the news the other night. They profiled a former US soldier who has gone back to Iraq as a civilian in order to fight along-side the local Christian militia to overthrow the soldiers of ISIS. I can’t fault this young man from Detroit for having a lack of bravery or commitment. It’s actually pretty amazing that he self-financed his way back to the most dangerous spot in the world to engage in armed resistance to a movement that he considers to be a threat to the people of God. What he and others like him have chosen to do is impressive, and it makes sense on some level – but it’s not the same kind of sense that Jesus was using.

I’m not exactly sure how Jesus would sort out the problems in Syria and Iraq. Jesus might well go and get himself killed, but he was not one to do the killing.

It’s not easy to get in the mind of Jesus, but he gave Peter and the other disciples a piece of his mind, and we need to hear what he had to say. Because what he had to say is informative of how we are to operate as well. Our challenge is not to operate with human sense, but with divine sense.

And this is particularly challenging because we’ve used our good human sense to make sense of why Jesus gave himself over to the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes and then to death on the cross. This was not a strategy that made sense to Peter, but we’ve found a way to make sense of it. We’ve latched on to this concept of Jesus needing to die for our sins. We’ve come to accept that it made sense for Jesus to die on the cross – that it was a good thing for him to do. And I’m not saying that it was a bad thing for him to do, but we’ve turned that act in to something that’s easier for us to accept.

We’ve turned it in to something he needed to do in order to fix the world. We’ve unfortunately turned this powerfully confounding act of self-giving in to a scripted act in a cosmic drama. And by doing this we’ve turned his incredibly challenging portrayal of love in to the necessary work of a messianic hero.

We’ve found a way to make sense of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. We’ve turned it in to something we can accept. We’ve chosen to believe that Jesus was just playing his role in the cosmic drama of good vs. evil, or God vs. humanity. God was unhappy with the way humans were behaving, and Jesus appeased God with the perfect sacrifice of himself – a concept that makes perfect human sense.

I’m not diminishing the extent of this gift that Jesus gave to the world, but I do want to challenge the notion that the death of Jesus on a cross was something God had designed and Jesus had to do. I refuse to believe that Jesus was simply an actor in a divine drama because I think that’s an exercise in making the story more bearable. I think that’s a way making human sense of the story and when we do that we avoid the challenge of thinking with divine sense. I’m convinced that it’s much easier for us to believe that Jesus simply knew what God had instructed him to do than it is for us to believe that the Son of Man had enough faith-inspired courage to trust that God’s kingdom would prevail and he would live on even if he was killed.

Was Jesus thinking? Or was he just doing what he was programmed to do? Was Jesus a human being who operated with divine sense, or was he simply operated by God? This is a deeply theological question. Great councils have been assembled over this question, books have been written to answer this question, churches have been split over this question, I guess wars have even been fought over this question. You may not find yourself thinking about this question very often, but regardless of how you might answer this question, how you live probably indicates what you believe. Do you find yourself trying to think as Jesus would think, or are you content to revere Jesus for doing what he did?

What jumps out at me in this passage is just how confounding Jesus was to the person who was most closely associated with him. Peter loved Jesus, he believed in Jesus, he wanted to follow Jesus, but he didn’t like what Jesus said he was going to do. What made sense to Peter is not what made sense to Jesus. Peter wanted Jesus to fix the brokenness of Israel, but Jesus wanted Peter and the rest of us to see how to find true life in the midst of this broken world. Jesus thought with the mind of God, and I believe this is what he invites all of us to do. I don’t believe our job is just to revere Jesus for the great work he did to reconcile humanity to God – I believe Jesus invites us all to join him in the humanly illogical work of reconciliation. It’s humanly illogical because it often involves loving the very people who give you the most grief.

Jesus didn’t invite his followers to pick up a sword and go kill a Roman collaborator – he challenged them to pick up their own cross and to follow him. And we are them.

This is a challenging passage of scripture for those of us who spend most of our time using our good human sense. We have to use our human sense to keep ourselves fed, and clothed, and sheltered, but it gets in our way when we start looking for true life. Nobody ever said it’s easy to follow Jesus – if they did they weren’t very familiar with the story. I believe Christian discipleship is an enterprise that raises more questions than it answers, but even the questions it raises are nourishing to ponder. What was Jesus thinking? What is the living Christ thinking?

Thanks be to God for the life of this man who didn’t do what we wanted, but who knew what we needed, and who continues to live among us in order to challenge us, to nourish us, and to show us the way to find true life in the midst of this broken and beautiful world.



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