The Way of Suffering–Lent 2

Mark 8:31-38

Jesus began to teach his disciples 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. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 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.”

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. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 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.”


In these strange and unusual days, when darkness wants to defeat us

 and the futility of life oppresses so many souls,

when belief and unbelief appear indifferent

            and what is left

 is natural passion to express the pride of life,

or the empty void of nothingness

            when the nerve to live and to create is weakened and suicides increase—

O Lord, forgive the failures of your Church to witness to the world

 that justice should run down as water

and righteousness a mighty stream,

O Lord, forgive the failure of the Christian life

            That lives so worldly

            That few can see the Spirit that must proclaim the Kingdom of God’s love to

                        to glorify His Name.

Fr. Gilbert Shaw, 1886-1967 in George Appleton, ed., The Oxford Book of Prayer, Oxford University Press


I love the Gospel of Mark. Mark doesn’t give us flowery language. He doesn’t elaborate in great detail the events of Jesus’ life. He gives us the clearest version of the life of Jesus. In Mark, Jesus’ primary vocation is that of a teacher, preaching the Kingdom of God. He is also a healer. However, in this text from Mark 8, he is teaching.

Most of us would have dropped the course after this lesson—when he tells his disciples that he must suffer many things…be rejected…and be killed. (vs. 31)  With that, Peter gets on his soapbox and rebukes Jesus.

Then, Jesus turns and rebukes Peter calling him “Satan.” Whew!

Next the teaching begins…not only is a cross ahead for him, but for them as well. (vs 34)

We don’t speak of cross bearing much these days but the Gospels are clear…cross bearing and discipleship go together. Faithful discipleship is cross bearing.

The season of Lent focuses on the cross. Jesus points us there early in the gospel and the Church has taken the Lenten journey seriously to lead in the path of the cross. Here Jesus lays aside the pursuit of pleasure. He doesn’t do what we choose so often to do—avoid pain, sacrifice, gaining not losing. Mark tells us that Jesus lays these aside.

Bishop Will Willimon reminds us that these are laid aside for us. Not only is Jesus saying my way will be difficult. He is telling us, the way for us will not be free of struggle, pain or suffering. Peter really doesn’t want to hear this. And Willimon reminds us that this is no way for disciples to behave either.

I came across a story in my files this week. I don’t remember where I found it or if I ever used it in a sermon. However, as we come to end of Black History month and as I reflect on the racial tension that continues to find its way into our world and, unfortunately, the Church, it struck me as a call to discipleship for our time.

The writer begins:

I remember the day I learned to hate racism.  I was five years old. The walk home from school was only about five blocks. I usually walked with some friends. On this day I walked alone. Happy, but in a hurry, I decided to take the shortcut through the ally.  Without a care in world I careened around the corner. Then I looked up—too late to change course. I had walked in on a back-ally beating.

There were three big white kids. In retrospect they were probably no more than sixth graders, but they looked like giants from my kindergarten perspective.  There was one black kid.  He was standing against a garage, his hands behind his back. The three white kids were taking turns punching him.  They laughed.  He stood silently except for the involuntary groans that followed each blow.

And now I was caught. One of the three grabbed me and stood me in front of their victim.  “You take a turn,” he said. “ Hit the boy!”  I stood paralyzed.  “Hit him or you’re next!” the giant shouted at me.

So I did.  I feigned a punch.  I can still feel the soft fuzz of that boy’s turquoise sweater as my knuckles gently touched his stomach.  I don’t know how many punches there were.  I don’t know how long he had to stand backed up against the garage. After my minute participation in the conspiracy they let me go and I ran. I ran home crying and sick to my stomach. I have never forgotten.

Thirty-five years later that event still preaches a sermon to me every time I remember it.  One can despise, decry, denounce, and deplore something without ever being willing to suffer, or even be inconvenienced, to bring about change.  If there is one thing that Jesus taught us it was how to suffer with and for others.

Jesus walked the way of the cross.  He taught us the meaning of suffering as a servant. Perhaps my first chance to follow that example came in an ally by a garage thirty-five years ago. 

I don’t know if that black boy from the alley grew up, or where he lives, or what he does today.  I never knew his name. I wish I did. I wish I could find him.  I need to ask his forgiveness—not for the blow I delivered—it was nothing, but for the blows I refused to stand by and receive.  I think that’s what it takes.  Source: Pulpit Resource Vol. 22, No. 1 January-March 1994 (Peter Velander—Editor’s Clip Sheets)

I can’t help but wonder today, how many of us fail in our willingness to take up our cross, to stand with those on the margins, to not shrink back. I invite you to reflect in these cross-bearing days of Lent to ask forgiveness for those failures of nerve and those failures of heart when we stood by or walked away or turned our head, shut our eyes to the pain and suffering and injustice around us. Then pick up whatever cross you have been given and walk to Jerusalem, to the Upper Room, to Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

For, in the end, we are Easter People. We are those whose power comes from two sources—the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit.

On this Sunday, the day when, in the midst of the 40-day journey of Lent, we celebrate the power of Easter, let us rise with Jesus.