Yr B ~ Lent 1 ~ Mark 8:34-38
Mark Twain once said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” Today we get one of those parts. Today’s reading means exactly what it appears to mean. Our challenge is what to do with it, because it’s pretty heavy duty stuff.
Such is the typical content of the season of Lent.
Are you a fan? Do you enjoy Lent? Or do you endure it? Or do you avoid it?
I asked the Monday morning scripture discussion group – called the Porch – to describe what they liked about Lent. Two words that emerged were raw and intense. Lent certainly can be both of those things – if you let it.
Lent is the season during which we prepare for Holy Week. Jesus turns his eyes toward Jerusalem and so do we. We know that a cross awaits him. We know that it will not be pleasant or pretty. It will definitely be raw and intense. So why do we put ourselves through this?
The short answer is that if we don’t we will not only never understand Jesus and his teaching but we will get entirely the wrong idea about what this whole church and faith thing is supposed to be about. I’m going to work very hard today to dispel one of those things that I think we tend to get wrong – the cross. I hope you will find it helpful, but it’ll push your buttons!
Even if you never darken the door of a church there’s one aspect of Lent that’s pretty popular in the world – it’s the idea of giving something up for a while. I say something like this every year, because it really is that important. Giving something up is fine, but it kind of misses the point if that’s all you do.
And it really misses the point if you go around whining or bragging about how much you’re suffering for having ‘sacrificed so much’. If you do that you’re saying “Hey everybody, look at me, aren’t I a great person because I’m a bit uncomfortable!?” Does that sound like Jesus to you? If you’re going to give something up the point is to then trade that time for doing something spiritual – like praying, or helping people. Give up watching an hour of TV or internet and instead use that time to focus on God.
So where’d this whole idea of giving something up come from? Well, one place is today’s scripture reading. But I’m going to suggest that we can find deeper things in it.
Here’s the verse – it’s Mark 8:34 where Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
Denying yourself doesn’t mean to forego eating chocolate, and it certainly doesn’t mean to demean yourself by calling yourself a vile worm. To deny yourself means to be less self-centred. It means to not always put your own desires first. It means opening your heart to God in prayer and saying “not my will but THY will be done” and really meaning it.
It’s not even a verse about sacrifice really, it’s a verse about surrender. About trust. About letting go and letting God. You can’t approach that by just giving something up for Lent. It’s more about giving yourself over for Lent.
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
What does Jesus mean with this provocative phrase “take up their cross and follow me”?
Well, it depends on which audience you consider. There are three.
The first audience is the crowd of people on the road with Jesus and his disciples. At this point they had no idea that he would be crucified. He may very well have had an inkling about it because he was poking at both the religious and the political establishment and when you poke hard enough they tend to fight back, and it rarely ends well for the poker. So while Jesus may have suspected there was a cross in his future, those travelling with him had no concept of Easter Sunday yet. read on