The readings for Sunday, March 8, 2009:
First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
Psalm: Psalm 22:22-30 (Psalm 22:23-31 NRSV)
Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25
Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
In this week's Gospel, we have an interesting portrait of what it means to be the Messiah: to be rejected, to be hung on a cross, and to die in a humiliating way.
Again, repeat after John the Baptist, in our Advent readings, "I am not the Messiah." I've come to find that phrase comforting, as I realize that there are so many areas in which I cannot save people. I cannot force students to come to school and to enroll in classes, I cannot make the ones I love adopt healthier habits, I cannot rid the body of disease (although I'm willing to pray that it will happen), I cannot prevent the body from breaking down inevitably, and I cannot make adolescents behave in safer ways. I am not the Messiah.
But Peter's behavior makes me think that I can take my denying efforts too far. If I can say, "I am not the Messiah," it means that I have some expectations of what a Messiah should be and do. And then what happens when my expectations aren't met?
I know many people who pray to be delivered from disease, either for themselves or for others, but then death comes anyway. How do those people respond? Some of them admonish God and turn away from belief.
Jesus makes it clear that just because we believe, we won't lead charmed lives. We will still suffer any number of losses, and perhaps we will suffer even more losses, precisely because we do believe.
When I was young, I used to create dramas, where the main character (often a Barbie doll) was captured by Communists, who wanted her to renounce her faith; in fact, they would threaten her with death. My childhood belief system imagined that the worst thing I could do would be to renounce God in a public way like, say, a trial or a book.
But now, I think about the number of ways that we deny God in our regular daily lives. For example, many of us don't give our money away because we don't really trust that God will provide for us, as God has promised to do. We don't believe in Christ's vision of a redeemed world, because our senses (and our news media) tells us otherwise.
Like 3 year old children, non-believers (and shaky believers) are watching everything we say and do. They will say, "If _________________________ claims to believe in God, and yet behaves this way, then I'm certainly not going to believe in God." And so God stands betrayed and abandoned.
The season of Lent is a good time to do some self-inventory. How have we betrayed our core beliefs? How have our behaviors and thoughts betrayed our Creator? How can we change to avoid any future betrayal?
feeling the feelings…
11 months ago