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Lent Two - Self Emptying Love

Only week two of Lent and already we glimpse the heart, the task, the challenge of not only Lent but in some sense the very gospel and the life of faith in its essence! (Lent Two. Mark 8:[27-30] 31-38) That is, Peter, having realised that Jesus is the longed for Messiah, holy one of God, is rebuked that his understanding is too small. Jesus teaches that not only will he suffer but that to follow him means to take up our cross.


You may wish to read what I wrote three years ago.

 


We, like Peter, tend to want our Messiah, our religion, our tribe, to be on the winning side of life – glorious, victorious, powerful! This, I imagine, is why Peter takes Jesus aside when he begins to teach that he must suffer and rebukes him! While Peter may well have realised that there was a risk in following the holy one of God, the Messiah, when their land was occupied, Jesus was not simply warning them that things could get heated but that suffering was an integral part of what it was all about.

 

As will become so painfully clear on Good Friday to companion Jesus on the Way is to be on the apparently losing side, to join the shocked and broken disciples huddled in fear. And yes, we know that on Easter Sunday we will again celebrate the mysterious joy of resurrection. But resurrection is not reversal of suffering or avoidance of death, fear and loss. Rather resurrection is the mystery that victory, completion and joy are to be found in the midst of life’s worst.

 

What might Jesus have meant when he said that he must suffer greatly and be rejected by the religious? The ready made answer is that he the perfect one had to pay a ransom for us imperfect ones. While I do not want to enter here into a long debate about atonement theology it is clear that this is not all or even primarily about what Jesus is teaching because he says that his followers also need to take up their cross. Surely if his suffering was about paying for and excusing others there would be no need for followers to take up their cross as well.

 

Like Peter we seem to have too small and too conventional an understanding of what is going on. Jesus seems to be saying I AM NOT THAT SORT OF MESSIASH!! I have come to be one with you not Lord it over you. I have come not to spare you being human but to bring the divine into the humble and earthiest of places. I have come not to be worshipped but to serve. I have come not to be filled with your adoration but to empty myself of everything, most especially of love.

 

And if we are to be followers this is the way that we too must walk. Lent reminds us of three things at least about what it might mean to take up our own cross. Firstly that we look to the cross of Jesus and how he bore his suffering. We are reminded not to desire success and status but to be available to see God’s image in humble places. We are reminded to love until we are nothing but a vessel of God’s love for us and through us for others. We are reminded to not fear failure and death as ultimate destinations but to trust that love given away will carry us home.

 

Secondly we are called to see and love all that we meet on this Way – fellow seekers and the lost, those who hide in out of the way places through shame and mercenary intent – and recognise in them their sibling status as fellow Beloveds of God. The cross and the covenant between God and Abraham and Sarah should convict us of our mutual brokenness and our shared belovedness. The invitation to belong is extended to all and our only achievement, if we can call it that, is that we have been gifted with the desire for relationship.

 

Thirdly, and there is no dancing around it, the cross reminds us that we are mortal and that following Jesus does not provide a short cut to avoid death. Both our final physical death and the thousand smaller deaths of failure, loss, and surrender. For us who follow Jesus on his way the cross is not a punishment or a threat, not a talisman or a contract, but rather it is an invitation to life through self emptying love. As it is sometimes expressed the tree of shame has become the tree of life. Jesus showed us what life and love beyond agenda and bargaining looks life and says that this is the way for us to grow beyond the deals we seek to make with life and God, a way to surrender our will so that we might be encompassed by the will of God, a way to let go of our small vision so that we can be embraced by the heart that lies at the centre of all being.

 

To live in the shadow of the cross is not to live in fear and avoidance but a limitless invitation to participate in all that is holy and loving. By the inside out, upside down, wisdom of Jesus we are invited to find our lives by giving our lives over, we are promised life eternal by facing death, and we promised companionship for the whole journey.

 

Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ, give us courage and faith as large as a grain of mustard that we might dare to follow as you have commanded.


In preparing for Lent I have read and reread many books. This week I am particularly grateful to Cynthia Bourgeault's "The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind - A New Perspective on Christ and His Message" and her chapter six on Kenosis: The Path of Self-Emptying Love. Shambala Press, Boulder, 2008

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