Avoidance Strategies

In the same way that I do not prefer to "remember" morbid thoughts like my finitude and the atrocious and brutal death of Jesus, I find that the disciples were disconnected whenever Jesus invited them to consider his impending betrayal, beatings and death. They, like me, don't want to dwell on such ugliness. Let's just get to the good part - the resurrection! The disciples did not have the luxury we have of knowing the end of the story.

Look at their avoidance strategies:

Peter's Rebuke of Jesus - (Don't talk like that....)
In Mark 8:31 Jesus begins to tell his disciples about his suffering to come. Mark 8:32 - "As Jesus talked about this openly...Peter took him aside and began to reprimand him for saying such things." Of course, and in Peter's Jewish mind, the promised Messiah would never suffer (Peter had just declared Jesus as Messiah in Mark 8:29) Jesus' response to Peter, "You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God's."

After this is the transfiguration - so how in the world would Peter, James and John ever believe that Jesus would be betrayed, suffer and die? But on the way down the mountain again, Jesus brings it up. They don't know what to do with it. Thankfully, (saved by the crowd in crisis) they encounter an argument and commotion about a man whose son was unable to be healed by the disciples. Jesus heals him and they move on through Galilee. But at least they didn't have to engage with Jesus' suffering. Well, not for long because...

He brings up his suffering again. "They didn't understand...and were afraid to ask what he meant." (Mark 9:32) And in fact, as they walked along they didn't even give a thought to this suffering that Jesus kept bringing up. Instead, they changed the subject and began arguing about who would be the greatest. Again, they are completely disconnected from this impending harsh reality...afraid to ask Jesus in the same way I feel stymied in asking questions to my friends who are suffering. "Let's change the subject...and talk about greatness." Talking about suffering makes me too uncomfortable.

In chapter 10 - they are now on their way to Jerusalem - setting out on Jesus' final "mission" - to be betrayed, suffer and die on a cross. Again he brings up his suffering (Mark 10:32) and again, the two brothers, James and John, completely disregarding Jesus' words about betrayal, death and suffering, come up to Jesus and ask Jesus a favor: to sit on either side of Jesus when he sits on his glorious throne.

Focusing in on Jesus' suffering and death is more important than we know. We can be accused of being morbid for "He is Risen!" But what if we didn't know the end of the story - like the disciples? Most likely we would avoid asking Jesus more about it - we'd change the subject to talk about who would be the greatest, or ask God to do us favors, or even try to focus on more positive aspects of Jesus' life.

But focusing on his death makes me have to focus on the reason he had to die.
Me.
Me and my finitude.
Me and my imperfections.
Me and my hurriedness.
Me and my pride.
Me who would rather avoid thinking about suffering and find a million other ways to anesthetize delving into it.
Me and my propensity to protect and hoard and store up treasure here on earth.
Me who is often rebellious - but in oh so subtle ways.
Me who would rather ask God for favors in order to avoid thinking about Jesus' death.

Oh my dear sisters and brothers - if we do not feel deep sorrow for our sins, we will never fully understand the thoroughness of His liberating forgiveness. Lent is the season that calls us to sit in the fullness of what we'd rather avoid. And, perhaps what we'll discover is this: She who has been forgiven much, loves much - more on that to come.

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