Text: Mark 8:27-35 (“take up your cross”)
Truths that we find difficult to accept are also ones that can open us to healing and love. This is a message I take from our Gospel reading this morning.
Jesus tells his friends the honest truth. Even though they see him as heir to King David and as an incarnation of YHWH, Jesus says that he can’t stop the Roman Empire from executing him.
No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus; defeat is not what Peter had signed up for! But for this unwillingness to hear the truth, Jesus then calls Peter a Satan. The honest truth, Jesus says, is that even a new Messiah cannot overcome the Romans.
Jesus goes on to make things seem even worse when he urges his friends to take up their own cross. This implies that it is not only Jesus who will be arrested and executed. So will they! This might be an honest assessment, but it hardly seems like a welcome truth.
So, why does admitting powerlessness open us to healing and love?
This is a tough question, and part of me wishes that the order of the seven sacred teachings upon which this reflection and six others are based had been different. We started last week with humility, which is the virtue associated with our greatest vice, pride. Today, we focus on honesty, which is about admitting the truth about our humble status.
I don’t find these first two virtues easy either to live into or to preach on. Perhaps I will find the next ones – on Respect, Courage, Wisdom, Truth, and Love – easier.
Nevertheless, I will try to sketch an answer. Jesus’ admission of powerlessness creates an opening to healing because the worship of power is an illusion. Peter and the others want a tribal king like David and a tribal God like YHWH. But by by leading his friends to Jerusalem and worldly defeat, Jesus shows them another way.
The path to the Ground of Love — which is the only thing truly worthy of worship — can be painful. It involves the death of our illusions in false idols like kings.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t know and respect the traditions of our ancestors. In the gospel stories, Jesus clearly respects the Jewish roots of his family and friends.
Happily, Jesus also leads us beyond. His death symbolizes the death of illusions in kings and other false idols. His resurrection symbolizes the glory of a Love that is beyond tradition and beyond worldly success.
The honest truth is we don’t have the power to achieve all of our desires; and the Good News is that the deepest level we already have all that we need.
Climate Change is one of today’s realities that we struggle to accept. You might not be surprised to hear that I don’t have any practical wisdom as to how humanity can unite to confront this unspeakable disaster. All I can offer is an insight from Jesus that in accepting our powerlessness we enter a space freed from attachments, fears, and ego and in which we can dance in the light of love and grace.
Despite being powerless, Jesus fearlessly confronts religious and political leaders. He doesn’t “win.” But he shows that out of so-called defeat new life with the Risen Christ can arise. In the resurrected life, we remember that victory and defeat are empty human categories and that at the deepest level there is only Love.
Like Jesus and his friends in the face of Empire, we seem powerless in the face of Climate Change. But like them, we can accept the Grace to confront this intractable problem with fearless abandon because in Christ there is no success or failure, there is only Love.
On many days, we are like Peter and unable to accept an honest assessment of our situation. But when, in a moment of Grace, we respond to the call to take up our cross, we are freed from attachments to present social structures and empowered to love our neighbours in the light of reality. In such precious moments we glimpse our individual and social powerlessness and simultaneously rise to a new life that is connected to each another and to Source.
At such moments of humility and honesty, we accept that not only are we mere mortals struggling with radical social problems. We are also beloved children of God who carry the Risen Christ within us. We remember that we are already healed. God is Love, we are in God, and God is within us.
In such resurrected moments, we are free to speak truth to power and embrace the hope, peace and joy of this moment of Love, both now and always.
And for this honest truth, I say, “Thanks be to God. Amen.”