October 19, 2017

Lent: “From that Point On” — A Difficult Journey

By Chaplain Mike

We are well on our way into the Lenten season. It may be a good time for a refresher on the relationship of this season to the Gospel story.

In our January 7, 2011 post, “Epiphany and the Days to Come,” we pointed out that the Epiphany season is representative of the first half of the story we read in the Synoptic Gospels. These are the days when Jesus reveals God’s glory. The Light of the world has dawned in our darkness.

  • The Child is recognized as the King whose star lit up the heavens.
  • The divine voice affirms his identity as he rises from the waters of baptism.
  • Jesus travels throughout the land and the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the dead are raised, multitudes hear the Good News, disciples are called, trained, and sent forth, and Satan falls from heaven like lightning.
  • At the climax of this revelation, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.
  • Then Jesus takes three disciples to the mountaintop and is transfigured before them in divine glory.

From that point on, Jesus’ teaching was dominated by predictions of his impending death and the disciples proved how “slow of heart” they were time and time again as their Master pulled back from the crowds and focused more specifically on the Twelve and the dynamics of discipleship.

This is the journey we travel in Lent, a journey to Jesus’ cross, and a journey of learning what it means to take up our cross and follow him.

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.

• Matthew 16:21

Let’s briefly survey part two of the Gospel of Mark to see this emphasis on the struggles of the disciples as they make this journey with Jesus.

  • After Peter confesses Christ and Jesus begins to teach about the cross, the Lord must rebuke Peter for his rejection of the message. Then Jesus teaches them about taking up the cross and following. (8:31-38)
  • After the Transfiguration, they descend the mountain, and the disciples are incapable of casting out an unclean spirit from an afflicted boy. (9:14-29)
  • Jesus again foretells his death, but the disciples fail to understand. (9:30-32)
  • Along the road, they argue with one another about who is the greatest. (9:33-37)
  • They try to stop another exorcist, casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but Jesus forbids them, and then teaches them about causing others to stumble and being at peace with one another. (9:38-49)
  • The disciples struggle to understand Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce. (10:1-12)
  • The disciples rebuke children when they try to come to Jesus. (10:13-16)
  • They find it hard to understand Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. (10:17-31)
  • After a third Passion prediction, James and John ask for seats next to Jesus’ throne in glory. (10:35-43)
  • The disciples join the crowd in rebuking blind Bartimaeus for crying out to Jesus for mercy. (10:46-52)

That is the journey from Peter’s confession to the entrance to Jerusalem. The next story is that of the Triumphal Entry—Holy Week arrives. But the road that gets us there is marked by failure, misunderstanding, missing the point repeatedly, conflict and arguing—a general inability to grasp what Jesus is saying and doing. Every story emphasizes how the disciples fell short.

Jeff and I were talking about this the other day, and I called it “Jesus’ Discipleship Training Program.” It consists of two parts:

  • Teaching his followers things they do not understand.
  • Putting them in situations where they fail time and time again.

This is how Jesus turns us into disciples!

Remember, this is a journey to the cross. On our way we need to learn why we must go there. It is not because of our great wisdom and ability to be good disciples. It’s because of our weakness and sinfulness, our lack of faith and spiritual insight, our failure to love and be generous toward others, our discomfort with God and his ways. It is because we need forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.

Lent is not so much about giving up something as a spiritual discipline, though there is a place for that. It’s more about giving up. It’s about learning to die. Daily.

The second part of the Gospel story is not pretty. Or easy. You can’t program discipleship like this and put it between the covers of a three-ring binder. It’s about stumbling and falling, ripping holes in the knees of my jeans and getting covered with mud. It’s a demanding hike along a difficult path.

Comments

  1. In light of those bullet points the famous 12 look like a bunch of goofballs. Thank goodness He has chosen the weak things of the world.

    • Goofballs like us, you mean?

      * Teaching his followers things they do not understand.
      * Putting them in situations where they fail time and time again.

      I read that and went, “huh. Maybe I’m on the right track after all!” Thanks, Mike!

    • this comment made my day =)

      His power is made perfect in our goofball…ness.

  2. Thanks CM, an inspiring summation of those few chapters leading to Jerusalem. It encourages me that there’s hope for me yet!

    BTW, I wouldn’t count on retiring off the royalties should you publish this into a book.

    • Adrienne says:

      Thanks Mick, you gave me my laugh for the day believe me. Having spent 16 years working in Christian bookstores all I can say is, “You got that right!!” This would not go in the “TEN STEPS TO VICTORIOUS CHRISTIAN LIVING” section. I love the insight.

      And thanks to you also Chaplain Mike for holding for the truth to us – whether or not it is popular. It is feeding me more than you will ever know. Very grateful.

  3. I’m joining the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil this year. One of the things to be done is picking a confirmation name, so I’ve been reading up on the saints and early church Fathers. I’ve been struck by how almost morbidly obsessed they were with martyrdom. I read something the other day by St. Ignatius of Antioch where he said that he was looking forward to getting thrown to the lions. To him, it was an opportunity to really be a disciple, because Christ had died; now it was his turn to imitate that. Other early Fathers talk about their chains being their glory or decoration. It occurred to me that to them, the words “Take up your cross and follow me,” probably sounded very different than to us. “Cross” wasn’t a symbol, and it wasn’t just a metaphor the way we usually use it–dying to things we feel guilty about or don’t like about ourselves. It was an instrument of death. “Take up your cross and follow me” sounded something more like “Take up your syringe of lethal injection fluid and walk into the room with the gurney.” “Take up your instrument of death, and go where I went with mine.” Granted, in a culture where Christianity is legal and protected, we just aren’t going to face martyrdom. But thinking about it in that sense certainly makes “Take up your cross” a much sterner, stiffer proposition.

  4. An excellent picture of…us.

    We’re not much better than they were (at times). I can’t speak for all of us, but I know when I pray “…Thy will be done…’ so much of the time I really mean, “MY will be done…”

    But a great and loving Father we have, who knows how weak and afraid and selfish and untrusting we often are, but loves us all the more.

    Thanks for a wonderful post, Chaplain Mike.

  5. David Cornwell says:

    The lesson we learn as Jesus approaches the cross is a very humbling one. It strikes a death blow to all our pride, achievements, and self exaltation.

  6. “Jesus’ discipleship training program.” I love it. Thanks for the new view of these stories.

  7. Chaplain Mike,

    “It’s about stumbling and falling, ripping holes in the knees of my jeans and getting covered with mud.”

    That’s me, everyday. Thanks for pointing me to the Cross and to Jesus–again.