Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Bearing the Cross, Part I: Participating in The First Gospel Narrative
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. 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.
The cross we bear precedes the crown we wear.
Martin Luther King
The cross means action, suffering service to God’s Dream for the world. Jesus obeyed God’s will to the point of death and he calls his followers to do the same. One edgy theologian from the 20th century put it this way: ‘the cross is the price of social nonconformity.’ The way of Jesus is radical and nonconformist. Like the cross itself, it resists being marketed. Established forms of religion and popular trends do not mesh well with God’s Dream for the world. Throughout Mark’s Gospel, God’s Dream, through Jesus’ words and actions, is portrayed as a rigorous, unorthodox and unpopular adventure, guaranteeing a life of service and marginalization:
John the Baptist comes from the periphery of society, not Jerusalem…Jesus comes from a little known village called Nazareth…his first disciples are poor fishermen…Jesus heals the sick and demon-possessed…he heals a leper…he heals a paralytic…he eats with tax-collectors and sinners…he heals a man on the Sabbath…members of the establishment plot to ‘destroy’ Jesus…Jesus tells his disciples about his new fringe family gathered around him who does the will of God…his agriculture-themed parables champion the poor tenant farmer…he heals a demon-possessed Gentile…he heals a young girl and an old woman…he is rejected in his hometown…John is murdered by the establishment…he feeds 5000 poor people…he heals the sick in Gentile territory…he prophetically criticizes the traditions of the establishment…he heals the daughter of a Gentile woman…he heals a deaf man…he feeds 4000 poor people…he prophetically criticizes the establishment…he heals a blind man…he tells his disciples that they need to lose their life in order to follow him…he heals a demon-possessed boy…he tells his disciples that the road to greatness starts with becoming a servant to everyone, taking last place…he heals of another demon-possessed boy…he tells his disciples that little children, without status in society, are the model for citizens of the reign of God…he tells the entitled rich man to sell all of his properties and to give the earnings to the poor [the very oppostite strategy of the Monopoly board game]…he predicts [for the third time] his murder and humiliation by the establishment …he tells his disciples again that the road to greatness is to become a servant to everyone…he heals another blind man…he enters Jerusalem riding a lowly donkey to the cheers of adoring crowds…in a civil disobedient protest, he prophetically condemns the Temple of marketplace practices that cheated the poor and continued to allow the injustice to continue…he tells a parable prophetically criticizing the establishment…he prophetically criticizes the assumed authority of the establishment…he prophetically criticizes the establishment for foreclosing on homes of vulnerable widows…he tells his disciples that the poor widow giving 2 meager copper coins should be their model of generosity [not the rich folks giving large sums of money]…the establishment plots to kill Jesus secretly…
The whole story defines the meaning of the cross in Mark's Gospel. Participating in God's Dream means that our lives will inevitably grate on those who live conveniently, comfortably and coercively. When we live and speak prophetically, we risk being targeted and shunned by members of society's establishment and power-structure. We are a subversive threat, but filled with empathy, humility and gentleness. Neutrality [being 'apolitical'] is not an option. This may even lead, like it did for Jesus, to death. Jesus makes no attempt to hide the scandal of the cross. The whole narrative, from start to finish, boasts of God’s Dream inaugurated in the Servant-King Jesus. In this first gospel, Jesus’ death is not about saving souls by wiping away sin. It is the ulimate symbol of what it takes to participate in God's Dream for the world. The cross beckons disciples to sign on to God’s Dream by living it subversively.