Before I turn to the topic at hand, a word of explanation about the accompanying graphic. I recently took an “Urban Sketching” class through the Gage Academy. This is a sketch I did the other day in the home of some friends on Guemes Island. It’s a fun activity.
This Sunday’s Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus speaking of his impending suffering, followed by Peter’s response — “This shall never happen to you Lord,” and finally Jesus’ sharp rebuke to Peter, “Get behind me Satan.”
Early in my ministry (well, not only then) I ran into some challenges. People that seemed threatened by me, suspicious of me, hostile. I didn’t get it. I’m a decent guy. Trustworthy, imho (in my humble opinion). I’m serving God, at least trying to do. So what’s up with all the crap?
I whined about it to an older friend whose response has stayed with me. “If you’re not making some enemies, you’re probably not doing your job.” His words hit me like the slap of a Zen master.
Of course, one can take that sort of thing too far. The point is not to gratuitously irritate people or revel in dislike as if it is proof of your virtue.
But the exchange with Jesus and Peter does indicate that being a follower of Jesus entails a cost. Not everyone will like you or sing your praises. It can, at times, be tough and lonely.
That older friend, who delivered his mild rebuke to a young minister who was probably a little full of himself, reminded me that there is a cross at the center of this thing. That is a steady refrain of Mark’s Gospel and a theme of this week’s text. The disciples looked down the road to Jerusalem and saw their name plates at seats at the table of power. Jesus looked down that same road and saw a cross.
Sometimes we imagine this — “the cost of discipleship” — in such rarified and exalted terms that it is hard to apply to ordinary life or garden variety stuff like making enemies when you challenge vested interests and power in a church or another organization. We think more in terms of great saints and martyrs, Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King etc.
But when parents, teachers, business people, doctors or political leaders make difficult choices and hold to principle in the face of pressure to do otherwise, that is discipleship — and it can prove costly and painful. And it is at such times, according to the gospels, that we come actually to know Christ.
These days, when clergy and churches are hustling for members, it’s easy to assume that church should deliver pleasant life-enhancing experiences, a boost to our self-esteem and prospects, along with a variety of congenial relationships. All gain, no pain. Or as they say in some quarters, “all crown, no cross.”
Scripture and Mark’s gospel, in particular, offer us a different picture. Like that scene in the movie A League of Their Own. The star pitcher (Geena Davis) comes to her coach (Tom Hanks) to say she’s had it with all the crap, she’s going home. “It’s just got too hard,” she says. He answers, “It’s the hard that makes it good.” There’s truth in that. Lenten truth. A blessed Lent to you.