We know how this ends, right? After an auspicious beginning, Jesus travels to Jerusalem, stirs up trouble, gets arrested, and is crucified. And for those of us who grew up in the church, we probably know the meaning of this as well. Allowing some variation in the way it is formulated, the bottom line is that Jesus’ death is our fault. By some mysterious alchemy stretched out across space and time, our sin put Jesus on the cross. The unkind word, the impure thought, the drink to start the day, the little white lie. Worst of all, it’s something in our DNA, something hopelessly broken, the very essence of what it means to be human, that put Jesus on that cross.
The crucifixion looms large in the Christian canon. What makes perfect, obvious sense to us today – that there is a clear reason for Jesus’ death that is in keeping with the long story of God’s action in the world – was once a scandal to those who followed Jesus. Jesus was not simply in some trouble, not simply arrested or executed, but executed in a way that was reserved for the worst of the worst. It was humiliating to the victim and anyone connected to him. It was a threat and a promise to those who might defy the powers that be. For the first Christians, then, this was the fundamental question that must be answered, the very purpose of this new genre, the gospel: if Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, why did he die? Why did he fail? He clearly had power to do great things; he taught with authority; he was a good and just person; he courageously stood up to the powers of this world and steadfastly stood with the poor and rejected. But, in the end, he died.
Now, bear in mind that when Mark penned this text, his community had been making sense of these events for forty years. For forty years, people continued to follow this man who died. He promised salvation, healing, peace, but things just seemed to get worse. He died, they were scattered and persecuted, and finally the Romans came in and destroyed everything. And so the Christian question turns out to be a localized version of an enduring human question: why do we suffer? What mechanisms in the nature of reality make suffering not only possible, but seemingly inevitable? And why should we suffer? Is there a purpose to it? Perhaps most importantly, how do we suffer? If it is inevitable and its meaning is inscrutable, how do we live through it? Who do we become in suffering?
Please join us on Sunday, 11am at Kidd Springs Rec Center, as we talk about how Mark frames these issues in his passion story.
Grace and Peace,