Without us knowing it, and perhaps without the Church intending it (!), the Sundays of Lent have done something of a discipleship catechism for us struggling disciples of Christ. I had never realized this, until I sat down to work on this sermon.
The First Sunday of Lent promised visions of glory: You shall see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. A good way to begin Lent, with vision of final glory.
The Fourth Sunday of Lent once again brought us into a chaotic scene of everyday life and everyday disappointments and failures. But we heard Jesus teaching his disciples that he and they together were heading toward the Cross. They did not understand what he was saying to them.
The Fifth Sunday – today – shows plainly that they did not understand. Jesus continues telling them about his coming death on the Cross. And what is the immediate reaction? They want privilege, they want first places in the kingdom – which shows they have no understanding of what that kingdom is going to be!
“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem,” Jesus tells them today. They are going to the holy city, where they think he will establish his kingdom. Indeed, he will enter Jerusalem next Sunday as a king, but a different kind of king – not riding a magnificent military horse, but sitting on a donkey. Have you ever ridden on a donkey? I have; there’s nothing royal about it. If you think you have trouble understanding Jesus you’re in good company. The disciples themselves did not understand what he was saying to them. But they did understand after his resurrection… Well, no, not even then, for they were still asking the same questions about the kingdom even 40 days after his resurrection, when he was ascending to heaven.
No, the understanding came with the Holy Spirit, 10 additional days later. Do we understand? Don’t we receive the Holy Spirit at our baptism? Shouldn’t we have the same understanding as the apostles did after the day of Pentecost?
Where are we today in our own understanding? Are we James or John, asking for special privileges? Are we one of the other disciples, angry and jealous at someone else who might seem to have a closer relationship with God? Are we like the ones Jesus singles out who want to be served?
Or are we those who follow Jesus in the path of service? He came not to be served but to serve. Our reading today starts at verse 32 of chapter 10 of Mark. But we only hear the last portion of verse 32. Listen to what Mark wrote: And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him… That whole first section is omitted. Why? Ἦσαν δὲ ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ἀναβαίνοντες εἰς Ἱεροσόλυμα, καὶ ἦν προάγων αὐτοὺς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ ἐθαμβοῦντο, οἱ δὲ ἀκολουθοῦντες ἐφοβοῦντο. Luke 9:53 says, “his face was set toward Jerusalem.” τὸ πρόσωπον αὐτοῦ ἦν πορευόμενον εἰς Ἰερουσαλήμ – look of determination. No wonder they were filled with fear and astonishment.
θαμβέω = to be astounded, astonished, amazed
φοβέομαι = to be afraid
Are we ever astonished? Does hearing the Gospel ever fill us with fear, with a profound upsetting of our normal thoughts and values? That is the real challenge today: Are we ever shocked by Jesus? If we’re not shocked by him, we’re not taking him seriously. The gospel is dangerous. That is why Jesus warns his disciples today: “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized” – and he is not talking about having a beer with him or crying at our baby baptism. He is talking about a life that is challenging, that goes against the flow of normal human thinking.
With the fear of God, with faith, and love draw near – is the invitation every Liturgy. I see it however, as a statement about life in general. The Christian lives with fear of God, faith and love. They go together. When it is joined with faith and love, the fear of God is not like fear of being robbed or attacked. Faith and love are not sentimental trivialities when they are joined by a sense of awe, amazement, astonishment – such as the disciples had going to Jerusalem. We are also going to Jerusalem and we will arrive there next Sunday. Can we go this week with some sense of amazement and profound inner anticipation? Try it. Wake every day with a sense of profound ταραχή as we say in Greek – a shaking of all our senses and thoughts. Look upon each day as a journey with Christ. Who you encounter and how you react to situations. Imagine being with Jesus in your encounters this week. Imagine…