2nd Sunday in Lent, 2015, year B (preached 3/1/15)
first reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16
second reading: Romans 4:13-25
gospel reading: Mark 8:31-38
There’s a false belief spreading like wildfire in Christian circles today and it is deeply troubling to me, and many others. It’s the belief that if we follow Jesus that we will be blessed with earthly success and “blessings.”
To the folks who preach this message, “blessings” are all good things, like rewards for good behavior. Like my children who get to choose from their classroom’s prize box if they’ve behaved all week, if we just follow God’s rules and walk the right path, we’ll get to choose from the heavenly prize box of job promotions, good health, loving relationships or winning the lottery!
Unfortunately proponents of this kind of bad theology have a lot of followers, because it’s playing to the crowd – it’s telling people what they want to hear.
We all want to think that if we play by the rules we will be rewarded. We all want to think if we’re fair people, then others, and systems, will be fair to us. Problem is, wishful thinking doesn’t make something so. Problem is, many times reality smacks that wishful thinking right in the face.
Problem is that try as we may to follow the rules, both society’s rules and God’s rules, many times there is NO reward. The reality is that those who play by the rules experience just as much suffering in life as those who don’t, sometimes even more.
Not only is this “blessings equal good things” thinking not realistic – IT’S NOT BIBLICAL EITHER. Our gospel reading makes this extremely clear.
Peter was infected with this “blessings equal good things” thinking. It was repulsive for him to hear from Jesus that blessing comes “in” and “through” trials and suffering.
Jesus says he will undergo great suffering, be rejected and killed. Only after that will he rise again. So Peter rebukes Jesus. No way Lord! But Jesus came right back at him. Rebuke follows rebuke and Jesus puts Peter in his place. Not only that, Jesus says that his disciples must FOLLOW. Follow a path of suffering? Take up MY cross?
If the word “gospel” means good news, then what in the world kind of good news is this? Who in their right mind would want to follow Jesus?
NO ONE – if all we are looking for is earthly success. NO ONE – if we want a quick fix. NO ONE – if we expect an easy life. NO ONE – if we want to think we’re masters of our destinies.
So why follow Jesus? Why commit to a life of denying ourself and taking up our cross? Why, when there’s no earthly payoff? Ah, but here’s where we would be wrong.
There IS a payoff, both in heaven AND on earth – it’s just not the payoff we expect. What we have to decide is if we want an easy road that leads nowhere, or a more difficult path that leads to forever.
It may be harder to follow in the way of Jesus – indeed Jesus tells us it WILL be, but does “harder equal worse?” Or is “harder” BETTER in the long run?
When Jesus rebuked Peter he didn’t only say, “Get behind me…” he also said, “For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” He also said, “For what will it profit [us] to gain the whole world and forfeit [our] life?” Peter is looking only at immediate gratification, not at long term benefit.
Human/earthly things drive us to what feels good now, having a good time, what will puff us up – winning, succeeding, doing whatever it takes to be number one, not caring about the little guy.
Divine things draw us to what gives ultimate peace – LOVE – which is sometimes HARD work, what builds us up – winning even when we lose, no one being left behind, everybody getting picked for the team – no little guy to step on because everyone is BIG, everyone is priceless because we were all bought by Jesus’ sacrifice.
Human things tell us that Donald Trump is worth more than me. Barack Obama is worth more than you. Bill Gates is worth more than Donald Trump AND Barack Obama!
But God says, “Nope.” You and I are worth exactly as much as Donald, Barack and Bill. God shows no partiality. Jesus loves each and every one of us, and died for each and every one of us – all the same.
And because God suffered for us, because Jesus went through torture – he is able to carry us through torture – he is able to carry us through the times when reality smacks OUR wishful thinking in the face.
Because God suffered, our suffering does not mean we are somehow “less than.” Because God suffered, it means our suffering isn’t a sign of God’s displeasure. Because Jesus was rejected, we are not alone when WE are rejected. Because he died and rose again, our deaths will not be the end. Jesus may not always tell us or give us what we want, but he gives us what we NEED.
There are places in this world where people live in abject poverty. Where political and religious persecution are REAL and life threatening. Yet in many of these places the Church is thriving! In these places people are willing to die if necessary to follow Jesus.
Because they KNOW what we need to re-learn. They know what we need to share with those in our lives who struggle…
That the blessing is Jesus himself. We are blessed because he loves us. We are blessed because we are never alone. We are blessed because he rejoices with us when we rejoice and holds us up when we’re desperately depressed. We are blessed because God can see for us beyond what feels good, to what is REALLY good.
We are blessed because no matter what happens, he is with us in THIS life, and after this life is done, he has saved our lives FOREVER.