The feuding farmers

File:AEL Saemann und Teufel - zweite Fassung.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 23, 2017

Year A

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

We call it the parable of the wheat and the tares, but it should perhaps be called the parable of the feuding farmers. A householder sows good seed. He is raising wheat, which means he has good land, not the poorer land hospitable only to barley. It is a high quality product.

Feuding is the reality of life in ancient honor-shame societies. “Enemies” are inherited adversaries, families contending for status in their communities. The back and forth between feuding families provides the substance of village entertainment. In this man’s good field with good seed, his adversary has sown a weed whose telltale signs don’t appear until the wheat begins to put forth its berries. When it does, the farmer looks the fool, as though he were conned into purchasing poor seed – or was unable to see that the seed he had preserved from the previous year was laced with weeds.

He is a laughingstock. Honor is diminished. And the social pattern calls for revenge. But whereas any other might weed his field, this man lets the thatch grow. Though the village snickers, in the end he gathers not only a fine harvest of wheat, but fuel for his fires. The tables are turned; it is the enemy who now looks the fool.

It is with the kingdom as it is with feuding farmers. Despite the hostility of an enemy, a rich harvest comes.

Patient endurance and the certainty of God’s promised reign weave through our readings this Sunday. Through the prophet, God assures a troubled people that they shall see renewal: “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon your descendants…Do not fear, or be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? You are my witnesses!”  The psalmist trusts in God’s faithfulness as he cries for help against those who threaten his life. Paul speaks of the creation waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” saying, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”  And then we hear of the feuding farmers and the wisdom of the one who waits knowing that the good seed shall certainly bear forth a great and abundant harvest.

The Prayer for July 23, 2017

Gracious and eternal God,
whose will it is to draw all things into your grace and life:
Grant us confidence in your promise
and joy in your Spirit
that we may be faithful to what seems right,
and suffer with patience what seems evil,
until that day when your goodness reigns over all;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 23, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 44:1-8 (appointed 44:6-8)
“You are my witnesses! Is there any god besides me? There is no other rock; I know not one”
– To a people in exile in Babylon, the legacy of the nation’s folly and a fifty-year-old war that left their homeland in rubble, the prophet speaks of God’s faithfulness and the certainty of God’s promised future.

Psalmody: Psalm 86:11-17
“O God, the insolent rise up against me” –
the poet recalls God’s words of promise and seeks God’s help in trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 8:12-25
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us”
– Paul speaks of the Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God and inheritors of the promise.

Gospel: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field”
– with the parable commonly referred to as the wheat and the tares, Jesus bear witness to the wisdom of patient endurance and confidence in the dawning of God’s reign.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAEL_Saemann_und_Teufel_-_zweite_Fassung.jpg Albin Egger-Lienz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Where ladies are dressed

File:Maler der Grabkammer des Zeserkerêsonb 001.jpg

Thursday

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

27“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.”

Paul is not confirming the power of ignorance. It is not a diatribe against learning. Paul, himself, is well schooled and knowledgeable. This is a challenge of the “wisdom of the world”: the everyday realities accepted by all as “the way things are” – and the way God wants them. These are the realities of the ancient world where a few elite families hold positions of power and prestige granted by the emperor or passed down through the ages by a noble family line. Inherited wealth. Inherited power. Inherited privilege. The “wisdom of the world” is the world of Downton Abbey where ladies are dressed by maids and servants stand at attention while the family dines and the upper class doctor is believed over the village physician. This is the world where Rome rules by decree and those granted Roman citizenship are subject to a different law than the rest (so Peter is brutally crucified but Paul, the citizen, is granted a quick and clean beheading). This is the world that has always been and the gods confirm.

But this strange God of Abraham and Isaac chose Jacob, the younger, over Esau the elder. This strange God summoned the murderer, Moses, at the burning bush and chose a people in bondage. And when the time came, God didn’t choose the palace but the peasant home. God didn’t choose finery but a manger. God didn’t choose the priestly cast but the construction trade. God didn’t choose the literate students of the city rulers but fishermen and a tax collector.

It looks like folly to the privileged – but this is not about rejecting knowledge. It is about the nature of God’s kingdom where honor doesn’t go to the fine houses at the top of the hill by the temple, but to those poor and meek who live the justice and mercy God desires.

“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” asks Nathanael when he is urgently summoned by Philip. “Of course not,” we all know. But, surprise, what is honored in God’s sight is not happening in Jerusalem; it is happening in Nazareth and Capernaum Sychar and wherever bread is shared and outcasts welcomed and tears shed for the world to be made new.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaler_der_Grabkammer_des_Zeserker%C3%AAsonb_001.jpg By Maler der Grabkammer des Zeserkerêsonb [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What does the LORD require?

File:Volunteers of America Soup Kitchen in Washington, D.C..gif

Watching for the Morning of January 29, 2017

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Sunday takes us to the Sermon on the Mount and the familiar words of the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are the meek…Blessed are the merciful.” They are great and powerful declarations about what is honored in God’s sight.

We sometimes miss the meaning of these potent declarations. They sound gentle and kind to us – at least until we get to the one about persecutions – but these are thunderclaps, imperial proclamations reversing the values of all the kingdoms that have come before.

Words like ‘meek’ and ‘blessed’ convey something different in a modern western society than in the ancient Mediterranean. Jesus is not talking about those who are fortunate in life, but those who are honored in God’s sight. Honor belongs to those at the bottom of the heap, not those who have climbed to the top. Honor belongs to those who embody God’s mercy and faithfulness, not those who lead the parade. Those working in the soup kitchens of the District of Columbia this last week are the nobility of God’s kingdom, not those ushered about in limousines.

So Sunday we listen as the prophet Micah utters those famous words: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” And the psalmist will sing that those who are welcome in God’s presence are not the ritually clean but those who live faithfully towards their fellow human beings. And Paul sets out his opening gambit in the first letter to the Corinthians talking about the folly of “the wisdom of the world” versus the wisdom of the folly of God.

And then we will hear the beatitudes. They are not the “be-happy-attitudes”; they are the broad sweeping scythe that cuts down all that is exalted in the empires of this world and raises up those of generous heart and kind spirit, who weep at the walls and weapons we build, who hunger for a world of mercy and peace. Their prayers will be answered. Their prayers are being answered, even now, as Jesus speaks.

The Prayer for January 29, 2017

Lord of Life,
by your word and deed you overturn the values of our world,
declaring honorable what is often despised:
the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers.
Help us to hear your Word,
and in hearing to trust,
and in trusting to live as you call us to live;
through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for January 29, 2017

First Reading: Micah 6:1-8
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” – Through the prophet, God brings charges against his people, summoning the surrounding hills to hear God’s case and render judgment. God has done great things for this people and asked for justice and mercy, but the people have been faithless.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet describes the one who is worthy to enter the temple precinct in terms of faithfulness to others rather than ritual purity. Where we expect to her about ‘clean hands’, we hear instead about justice and mercy.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” –
The values of ‘the world’, the things honored and treasured by a humanity that has lost its harmony with God, are shown to be foolish and empty by God’s revelation of himself in Christ crucified.

Gospel: Matthew 5:1-12
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” – The beatitudes begin Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the first of five blocks of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus speaks of what is honorable in God’s sight and declares God’s favor.

The comments from this and previous years on this Sunday of the church year can be found under the list of Sundays or by clicking here.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AVolunteers_of_America_Soup_Kitchen_in_Washington%2C_D.C..gif By Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The noble

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Friday

Psalm 16

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

Noble, lofty, majestic, glorious – even ‘famous’ – the underlying Hebrew word is like the English word ‘noble’. It can refer to someone who is honorable or to the elite members of society, the nobility.

Every culture has its ‘nobility’, those who by virtue of their wealth, family or fame occupy the upper echelons. These are the ones who govern, who set fashion, who occupy the big homes and public airwaves. These are the ones around whom the world seems to revolve. They run the central institutions of their time. And they are the ones the structures of society tend to serve. Laws favor them. They are the 1% – or the .1%.

In the modern west, the elite are a diverse lot. Some are artists who dominate the media. Some are the graduates of elite universities who occupy the elite corporate positions. Some become famous by chance. Some because of their skill at sport. Some because of their skill at politics. Some who are famous for being famous.

We buy their tennis shoes, listen to them on the talk shows, watch them on late night television. We follow them online. We name our children after them. We treat some of them as gods.

So who is it that our psalmist lifts up as the true nobility? “The holy ones.” The faithful. The pious. Those whose allegiance is to the God of the Exodus and Sinai. Those who observe the commands to care for the poor and honor parents. These are the ones with honest weights in the market and respect for the land and its creatures. They do not leave a donkey fallen under its load. They take a wandering animal back to its owner. They protect the livelihood of their neighbor and the integrity of their neighbor’s marriage and family. They do not cut down the fruit trees in time of war. They do not gather in the high places to worship gods of fertility and prosperity. They do not sacrifice their children to the hungers of the gods. They do not put their hope in fetishes, but in the promise of God. They honor the vows they speak. They bring their first and best to the LORD.

These are the true nobility of a country. Not those who are standing shirtless in their victory parade. Not those whose sex tapes burn up the internet. Not those whose charity is trumpeted for all to hear. But those who show faithfulness to God and neighbor. Those who do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

These are the ones we should honor. These are the ones we should treasure.

3 As for the holy ones in the land,
they are the noble, in whom is all my delight.

File:My Religion is very simple,My religion is Kindness.jpg

 

Top image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASirReginaldAndLadyMohun.jpg By http://www.historicalportraits.com/InternalMain.asp?ItemID=613 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Bottom image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMy_Religion_is_very_simple%2CMy_religion_is_Kindness.jpg  By Srinivasan Mandadi (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Cuckolding

For Wednesday

Mark 10:1-16

File:Studio per Vulcano e Venere.jpg10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Cuckold. It is a verb that describes what one man has done to another by being intimate with his wife. Committing adultery in the Biblical world was about cuckolding. It is something a man did to another man. Sex outside of marriage wasn’t the issue. Adultery was shaming a man by taking what was his – or shaming the woman’s father and brothers.

We tend to think about adultery as a matter of personal morality, a measuring of ourselves against a personal standard of conduct, not altogether so different from measuring our Body Mass Index or how fast we can run the mile. In the Biblical world, adultery is a betrayal of your neighbor and a rupture of the human community.

This was also the problem with divorce. Marriage was arranged by the parents. It involved an alliance of two families (or a bond within an extended family, since the ideal marriage was with a cousin or second cousin). For the groom’s family to dismiss the woman and send her home told the whole village there was some defect in her. It brought shame to her father and brothers. It led to feuding. It tore the fabric of the community.

So adultery and divorce are part and parcel of the same problem – human communities at war. Betrayal. Dishonor. Revenge. Feuding. It is a world awry. It is a world sundered from God and one another. The world where Cain kills Abel and we assassinate with everything from words to barrel bombs. It is the world where Jesus will be crucified.

Divorce isn’t really authorized in the Old Testament law; it is merely acknowledged. What is in the law are some restrictions to limit the destructiveness of divorce.

But, of course, that is the essential nature of the law. It seeks to limit our destructiveness. The concern is always our neighbor. The commandment not to steal, kill – or commit adultery – is not about my personal morality; it is about protecting my neighbor. So the scripture limits revenge, limits greed, limits our treatment of the natural world, limits our wars and slavery and all the other realities of a broken world.

But God intends more for us than just that we be a little less cruel, a little less violent. God wants the law to be written on our hearts. God wants our lives to be governed by God’s own Spirit. God wants us to be new creatures in a renewed creation.

So, when asked about divorce, Jesus talks about the beginnings, about God’s intention, about Eden, about all that marriage could and should and will yet be when the stone is rolled away and the Spirit given and the new world begun.

We need to do more than limit the harm we do. We need to be born anew. We need to journey with Christ through the death of our old self into the resurrection of the new. The argument here isn’t whether divorce is “right” or “wrong”, but whether I am right or wrong. And the unspoken but precious promise here, as they head towards Jerusalem, is that Christ will set me and us and all things right.

 

Image: Venus, Mars, and Vulcan, Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Red Wings, the Avalanche and Jesus

Friday

Mark 9:30-37

File:IginlaDraperFaceoff.jpg37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This word ‘welcome’ represents much more than a smile at the door should they show up at church. It means to extend hospitality, to take someone under your protection.

It is used especially with respect to travelers. It is dangerous business being in a place where you are a stranger. Ties of family and kinship are the guarantees of safety. If a member of your clan hurts me, my family will avenge. They will come hurt a member of your clan.

It’s why there are enforcers on ice hockey teams. You come after our star player and there will be consequences beyond two minutes in the box. It keeps the game relatively even. And a big hurt will be remembered even from one season to the next. Ask any veteran Red Wings fan about the war with the Colorado Avalanche over the cheap shot that broke Kris Draper’s jaw.

It’s hard for the fans when former enemies become members of your team, but once they join, they come under the team’s protection.

To ‘welcome’ is to extend the circle of your clan’s protection around a vulnerable person. And in an honor-based society, the payoff for the one who extends such hospitality is that the recipient will sing your praises wherever he goes. To show hospitality increases your own honor and standing in the community.

But what is to be gained by showing hospitality to a child? It doesn’t really make sense in the quid pro quo world.

Unless the child belongs to someone important.

+   +   +

I would prefer to stop right there and let you recognize the crucial conclusion. But, sometimes we need it spelled out for us: the child belongs to someone important. The child, the weak, the vulnerable, those on the bottom of the social hierarchy, those without power or influence – these are members of Jesus’ household. To receive even the least, is to receive Jesus. To fail to extend your care and protection for the lowliest slave in the king’s household is to betray your king.

We can argue about our relative importance in the pecking order all we want – as the disciples were doing – but the least member of the royal house is to be honored above us all.

 

Photo: By JamesTeterenko (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

At the high table

For Wednesday

Mark 9:30-37

File:Carl Bloch - Christ and Child.jpg37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

It’s hard to convey the magnitude of this action of Jesus. Maybe it would have some of the correct emotional power if we saw Jesus take a homeless drunk in his arms, look his followers in the eye, and say, “Whoever welcomes him welcomes me.” Or perhaps if Jesus had taken that large, swaggering and apparently thieving young black man from Ferguson into his arms. Or the drowned child lying in the surf in Turkey with the red shirt and blue pants.

When we think of this child in Jesus’ arms, he or she is inevitably sweet and innocent. But that is not the point Jesus is making. In the realm of God, greatness is in showing regard for the least.  It’s not that children aren’t loved in the ancient world; it’s that they have no status.

Jesus is trying to talk clearly and plainly to his followers about what awaits him in Jerusalem. Jesus is not talking in parables here. There is no hidden meaning. He will be rejected and crucified. And on the third day be raised. But this has no meaning to his hearers. They know no narrative of a messiah who dies. Messiahs reign. Messiahs reestablish the Davidic monarchy and deliver the nation from all its enemies. Messiahs purify the temple. Messiahs bring justice and righteousness. Messiahs lead heavenly armies and even cosmic battles against evil. But they do not die. There is nothing in their previous experience to comprehend Jesus dying.

And resurrection – this is something that happens at the climax of human history not in the middle. It happens to all, not to one. The dead are raised. The books are opened. The wicked are judged. The oppressed are vindicated. All things are set right. No, this word of Jesus doesn’t make any sense to his followers. So they go back to what they know. We are headed to Jerusalem. Jesus will deliver us from Rome. We will sit at his right and left hand. Who is the top dog? How does the pecking order go? Someone gets to sit at the high table, who will it be?

And then there is Jesus with this darn child as if the child gets to sit at the high table.

Exactly.

 

Image: Carl Heinrich Bloch, Christ and Child,  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carl_Bloch_-_Christ_and_Child.jpg

The unholy made holy

Friday

Acts 8:26-40

File:Menologion of Basil 006.jpg36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

It’s not an abstract question for the Ethiopian; it’s a highly personal one. He has just come from Jerusalem where the fact that he is a eunuch bars him from the temple. He is fundamentally flawed and not acceptable in God’s presence.

There is something to be said for the notion of holiness, that what we bring before God should be whole. Lame animals show no honor or respect for the Lord of all. Moldy grain, rancid oil – we ought not imagine making such gifts at the altar. God deserves our best. There is even something to be said for the notion that sinners ought to stand far off and not parade to the front, that we should come with humility, that we should approach God with care. But it is a far different thing for me to hold myself back than for others to make that judgment. It is for me to recognize God’s holiness, not for others to defend it. I should know my unworthiness rather than have someone point it out to me.

But Christ was crucified. He was made unholy. Outside the walls of the holy city, his death was hastened lest he pollute the holy days, while those who arranged his death went up to the altar with hands they regarded as clean. Pilate had to go out to the high priests as they conspired to murder Jesus, lest they pollute themselves by entering a gentile’s house.

The holy one – the truly holy one – was made unholy that we, the truly unholy, might be made holy in him. And now, what religious people excluded in order to defend God’s honor, God gathers in order to show his glory: the lame man at the temple, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian eunuch, Cornelius the centurion, gentiles in Antioch.  The stories of Acts follow the seeds Jesus sowed: the Syrophoenician woman, Matthew the tax collector, the woman with the flow of blood, sinners and tax collectors.

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” asks the Ethiopian eunuch. Marred in the flesh by men, rendered unholy by the mighty, he is now made holy in Christ by the Almighty. As are we.

It is not our job to defend God’s honor. God will take care of himself. It is for us to be mindful of God’s honor and enter into his presence with humbleness – and joy.

 

Image: Menologion of Basil II, Menologion of Basileiou – 11th century illuminated byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures, now in Vatican library.  Photo by Мастер Георгий (http://www.pravenc.ru/text/149805.html) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Children of God

Friday

1 John 3:1-7

File:Eyneburg 5.jpg

Stained glass (detail) in the Chappel of Eyneburg, Belgium

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are.

There are things we don’t hear in this simple but wonderful sentence. We ordinarily use the term “children of God” somewhat loosely – or broadly – to refer to the whole human family. We use it as a natural corollary of calling upon God as Father. We use it in the baptismal liturgy – especially when we deemphasize the idea of dying and rising with Christ, or the washing away of sins, and focus instead on baptism as an adoption into the family of God.

But in the first century this is not a normal way of speaking. We may belong to the people of God, we may be children of Israel, but the phrase “children of God” implies something much more. It contains a grant of honor not unlike someone being named to the Daughters of the American Revolution or to Phi Beta Kappa. To be named a son or daughter of the emperor makes you a member of the noblest family on earth – second only to God. To be a child of God ranks you above the emperor.

Of course, these children of God are called to wash one another’s feet. Christ came among us as one who serves. We are sent as emissaries of God’s mission. But nevertheless this title “children of God” carries unimaginable honor.

The phrase “children of God” (“sons of God”) is used in the Old Testament for the members of the heavenly court (Genesis 6, Job). In Psalm 82 these are the gods of the other nations who serve like local kings at the consent of the conquering emperor. Failing to observe the high king’s policies of justice and mercy they are deposed from their thrones.

In the wonderful meditation of Psalm 8 the poet exults in the honor that God has bestowed on humanity, ranking them just beneath these heavenly beings:

3When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
4what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?
5You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor

But now Jesus declares, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” And when pressed about the resurrection says of the resurrected, they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God.”

We who were once – in our best – a little lower than the angelic beings now, at the very least, are equal to them. We are members of the heavenly household.

It might be easier to imagine this to be true once we have passed over from death into the life of the resurrection, but our author of 1 John declares we are God’s children now. Whatever else the world may say about us, however much the world may despise us, however high or low we may rise or fall on the social scale – none of that has any enduring value. We are God’s children now.

To be named a member of God’s household is an incredible act of divine grace, faithfulness and love: “See what love the Father has given us.” We should exult in it. We should respond with praise and adoration. But we should also think twice, thrice and more about any word or deed or silence that betrays the honor or the mission of God’s house.

 

By User:Lusitana (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

We are their children

Sunday Evening

Palm Sunday / Sunday of the Passion

Mark 14:1-16:8

File:A Woman Praying over the Dead Body of Christ LACMA AC1998.240.2.jpg14:39 Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

It’s pretty clear from the Greek that the Gospel of Mark was composed as an oral Gospel. When you listen to someone tell the story of something that has happened to them, it has a much different rhythm than a written document. To put it simply, the stories we tell tend toward extensive run-on sentences joined by the words ‘and’ and ‘but’: “we went here and we did this and we did that and then this happened and then somebody said this and then we all agreed to that….”

You can see this in the Greek of Mark’s Gospel. Translators take out all those ands and buts and turn it into a written document, but it is a living voice, the story of a community, the story that is our story. When Mark names Simon of Cyrene you can see the congregation nod, because they know him or his family. When Mark names Mary the mother of young James and Joses, you can hear the murmurs of appreciation for these men and their mother.

When Mark tells us of Peter challenged by a servant girl and trying to deflect her attention by going into the outer court, and you hear the challenge growing as others begin to question it, you know there are people present in the listening congregation who have stood in that courtyard – or their parents have stood there. And they know about Peter’s understandable but unthinkable betrayal, and they are filled with appreciation for the grace of Jesus who knew this would happen and who received Peter back. And they know what Peter has meant to them all.

When Mark tells his story, there are people in the congregation who have faced that ultimate test and failed. And others with friends and family who did not fail, but were crucified by the Romans or became the victims of violence from their neighbors and friends. No one holds it against Peter. It is our story. And it magnifies Jesus.

He died with eyes open. He died with courage and strength and dignity. He is not beaten into silence before the High Priest or before Pilate; he is possessed of that inner stillness that knows when to speak and when words are of no use.

He died with honor, so that even the Roman centurion had to admit he seemed like a son of the gods – or, as they all now know – the Son of God, the beloved, the anointed one.

He died with courage and endurance in the face of great suffering, refusing the drugged wine. He died with a confession of faith on his lips – the psalm the begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” that confesses “You are the Holy One, enthroned, the Praise of Israel” and prays “deliver me from the lion’s mouth” and declares “Let the ends of the earth pay heed and turn to the LORD.” It is not a cry of abandonment, but a prayer of faith and trust.

He died with courage and dignity and only the leaders of Judah shamed themselves, snatching him in the dark though he taught openly in the temple, plotting to act by deceit and trickery rather than nobly in the open, sending thugs in the night rather than acting openly in the day, abusing an innocent man.

He showed himself honorable in a dishonorable world. He showed himself true in a deceiving world. He showed himself compassionate in a brutal world. He alone merited the royal purple, though they put it on him only to taunt and torture. He alone wears a true crown, though they gave him a crown of thorns.

He was not a fool. He was not surprised by what happened. He knew what was coming. He knew that one in the inner circle would betray him. He knew that all his inner circle would abandon him. He knew that his body would be broken like the bread and he would not drink wine again until that day when God’s kingdom dawns in its fullness. He knew Peter’s denial.

He was not a fool. He knew what was to come, but he trusted God would use this to reclaim and redeem his rebellious world. He sought God’s will not his own safety.

All this is in the story Mark tells. A living story for a living community. A community who knows that the empty tomb inspired terror at first. But Jesus went before them. The risen Christ met them. God voided the sentence imposed by the Jerusalem council and by Rome. God voided the judgment that Jesus was a liar. There was no mortification in the tomb, no decaying of the sinful flesh. God raised Jesus, declaring him righteous – raising him as the firstborn of the dead, the first of the resurrection when all humanity is judged and the world made new.

And that little band of refugees and survivors that listens to Mark tell his story, that little band that gathers around a shared table, that little band gathered in allegiance to Jesus and to one another, that little band is an anticipation of what is to come when all creation bows before the holy and righteous one.

And we are their children, gathered around the same table, telling the same story, and kneeling before the same Lord, trusting God’s declaration that he is the one who reigns and shall reign over a world where the debt of our sins is wiped away and we inhabit once more the garden world God made.

 

Image: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AA_Woman_Praying_over_the_Dead_Body_of_Christ_LACMA_AC1998.240.2.jpg