The way of the cross is what Jesus wants us to look at and follow, and it’s the way of divine love, self-giving, love that will heal the world once we also follow in that way.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Second Sunday in Lent, year B
Text: Mark 8:31-38
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“You’re not setting your mind on divine things, but on human things.”
These are the words of Jesus we need to focus on. Jesus’ other words to Peter are harsh words, yes. But our more pressing problem is that we’re setting our mind on human things, not divine things.
Something Jesus says points us to this. Throughout Mark’s Gospel Jesus often tells people to keep silent about signs and wonders they’ve seen him do. Even demons, who recognized Jesus’ authority and divine origin, are silenced by Jesus. Coming off the mountain of Transfiguration, as we heard a couple weeks ago, Jesus told the witnesses not to speak of it. It’s like Jesus wants to keep his Messiahship a secret.
But someone in our Tuesday noon Bible study noticed something important. Mark says that when Jesus spoke about his suffering, rejection, and death he “said all this quite openly.”
Do you see? Jesus insists on people keeping quiet about the very things that most impressed the disciples and the crowds. And us, to be honest. But when he spoke of his suffering and death, he spoke openly. He didn’t mind people hearing about that. Human things and divine things? Jesus thinks the divine thing is the truth about the cross.
Being focused on things of glory and power is a common human mistake.
God gave us the power of mind and body and spirit to be creative, to make things. We naturally like to use power, to make the world as we want it. We admire power and success in our world.
But if we think that’s what God is really about, if we focus on glory, impressive displays of miracles, splashy shows of glowing wardrobe on mountaintops, we’re looking the wrong way.
So the Son of God comes to turn us the other way. To call us to repent, to see the world as God sees the world. To be drawn into God’s life and God’s heart. And Jesus says we do this by looking at and understanding the cross.
But when we listen carefully to Jesus today, we see the cross might mean something different than we thought.
Much of Western Christian teaching has seen the cross of Christ not as Jesus spoke of it but as we thought it should work. Coming to power and strength under Roman law and justice, the Church saw God in the same system.
Many of us grew up on this. We were given the image of a courtroom, an angry God as judge, ready to sentence us to death. Then the Son bursts in and substitutes himself for our sentence. Or we were told that God the Father is so angry at our sin, forgiveness alone isn’t enough. God needs to be compensated for our sinfulness. So the Son dies on the cross to satisfy the Father’s need for the scales to be balanced.
These teachings make no sense if we listen to Jesus. If Jesus is meant to substitute for our punishment, or if Jesus’ death is meant to satisfy the blood-lust of the First Person of the Trinity, then the original cross should be enough.
Why, then, does Jesus ask us to take up our cross as well? What possible reason is there for me to take the path of the cross? Whom am I supposed to satisfy with my sacrificial love? Am I, are you, supposed to substitute ourselves for the punishment of another? If the Church’s theories are right shouldn’t Jesus have done all this already?
Jesus is absolutely clear: he must go to the cross, suffer, and die, and all who wish to follow him must do the same thing. Therefore, the divine view of the cross must be different than what we’ve learned. It needs to comprehend why not only Jesus walks the way of the cross, but why we are called to walk it, too.
Not surprisingly, we see the answer throughout Jesus’ teaching.
Jesus never says he goes to the cross to substitute for our punishment, or to satisfy his Father’s need for blood.
But he constantly calls us to a life of self-giving love, to follow his model. Everything he teaches about how we deal with each other, face our enemies, use money, deal with anxiety and fear, involves our letting go of our control, our need to be in power, and our need to do things our way.
If humanity is in love with power and glory, and that’s led to oppression and war and murder and violence and poverty and homelessness, and all the things that grieve the heart of God, the only way out of that is if we turn our minds toward God’s way. To divine things.
Now the cross makes sense. God-with-us, Jesus the Christ, comes with utter, complete, unstoppable love for the whole creation, and calls people to follow him in the same love. Because that’s a complete reversal of how we like to do things, of course at some point his love threatened people who could do something about it, and he was killed.
Jesus says this is always a possible outcome of loving as God loves. We probably won’t be crucified. But he wants us to realize how risky this radically different direction is for us.
This is why Jesus talked openly about dying, and downplayed miracles.
He needs us to see how deep and broad and high God’s love is, to quote Paul and the hymn, so far beyond human thought and fantasy that we couldn’t have imagined it on our own.
We couldn’t envision God loving us so much to suffer and die for our sake. There’s no sense in that. But when we keep our eyes on the cross, we see a truth about God’s love that drives us to our knees in awe.
And seeing the cross as the revelation of true, divine love, shows us why we’re called to the same path. It’s the whole point. It always was. God needs to turn us away from our lust for power and strength and winning, because when our minds are set on such human things, people die. People suffer. People are broken under our feet.
But when we see what the cross reveals about the love of God, and actually set our hearts and minds on this divine truth, we change. We begin to love as God loves, willing to lose everything. But in loving this way, we find everything. Healing, and life, and hope bloom all over this world.
If you want to know what God’s about, look at the cross. Jesus told us this quite openly. So did Luther.
And thanks be to God for the divine love we see there, poured out for the creation.
Turning around isn’t going to be easy. We’re going to need the Spirit’s help. We might stumble along the way, and, like Peter, find ourselves in opposition to Christ.
But Peter’s rebuke wasn’t the end of the story for Peter, was it? The love we see at the cross is such a pouring out of divine grace and goodness that forgiveness washes over the whole creation in God’s self-giving. We’re renewed and blessed and healed through this cross-shaped love. Like Peter, when we turn from our sin and mistakes we find the loving face of Jesus once more calling us to love, to feed his lambs, to follow.
Now that we know what to set our minds on, that’s exactly what we want to do.
In the name of Jesus. Amen