“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
I wonder what the multitude thought when they heard those words. We already know that the disciples, especially Peter, were shocked when Jesus told them that he was going to be rejected, suffer, and die. That, just two verses after Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Messiah!
We need to remember that about the time Jesus was teaching, Jerusalem had been under Roman occupation for about 90 years and the people had been waiting for the Messiah to come and restore their kingdom. The Messiah they expected was imagined as strong and powerful, just like God. They had given up their lives to follow Jesus and now he’s saying he is going to be rejected by the people they look up to?!.
Jesus came to reveal God to us. Not an angry, vengeful God, but the God who made a covenant with Abraham. Every time Abraham’s descendants failed to keep their part of the covenant, God came back and reset the relationship. Finally, God sent Jesus, hoping the reset would take.
By becoming fully human – breakable – Jesus proved to us that God goes with us in our suffering, in our brokenness. God goes with us to the cross.
We live in a world that idolizes strong and successful people. Have you seen many Facebook posts announcing failure or weakness? Do our governments admit failure or weakness? What’s that word, SPIN? Putting things in their best light? Of course, putting things in their best light isn’t always wrong, as long as we acknowledge our wounds. There are few “broken” people on the celebrity lists. If we are to follow Jesus, we must have the courage to be who we are – fully human – and willing to embrace our own and others’ brokenness.
To accomplish this we need to vulnerable. As several of you know, I tend to cry easily. I usually try to suppress the tears and usually make an apologetic comment about it. A while back someone asked me why I do that. I couldn’t answer. Having delved deeply into this passage I’ve learned the answer: I’m like Peter! I don’t know how many times during a tough time I heard, “Be strong!” It’s OK not to be strong, to hurt and rely on God and others to hold you up.
One thing we all have in common is our brokenness – we have all lived in the world of pandemic for a year, many – too many of us have experienced losses of loved ones due to the pandemic; our children have lost the companionship of their schoolmates as they sit at home looking at a screen. Some of our members have not been able to join us virtually. The causes of brokenness that existed before COVID are still present as well – poverty, oppressive power structures, personal betrayal. It weighs me down to even enumerate these things.
One of the things I have noticed in this past year is that people are beginning to be more open with one another about what they are experiencing. Most of us have never experienced “breaking” continuously for a prolonged time. We are realizing that we cannot do it alone.
This passage is calling us to trust that God is clearly and fully present with us in the suffering and brokenness of the world. Nothing will separate us from God. And when we know that we don’t need to be afraid of living as fully as we are able and do what we are called to do.
We are called to enter into other’s brokenness. When we do that, we experience God’s call to live courageously. That means to love the one we are praying for; to act on their behalf, if that is what is needed; to write letters to legislators about injustice that needs to be righted. I have a friend who shared with me the story of someone she had known for years but seldom seen who was dying. She was sad about that and felt compelled to pray hard for him and his family. When he died, she felt so much more loss than she would have if she had not prayed so intentionally for him. Her love and compassion for this human being, who left the earth before his time, had grown to resemble God’s love.
So, this Lent, eat that chocolate, but deny yourself the illusion of invulnerability and strength and bear the cross of compassion for the brokenness of the world. Do whatever you are called to do, to mitigation the brokenness.