Last week we heard the story of a stranger – a woman of contentious language, culture, and economics. She challenged the status quo, a limited version of salvation, the narrow love of a God who redeems only one nation, leaving leftovers, scraps and crumbs for the rest of creation.
She pushed back at the table, daring to tell Jesus that grace is not scarce. That there is enough. That God has the power and desire to feed all people with mercy and love that do not run out. She was willing to lose it all – her pride, her honor, her reputation – to gain healing and life in Christ.
It’s not the first or the last time someone is willing to “lose it”, to look foolish or emotional or irrational in order to claim what they know to be true. But Mark chooses this story to be the one ringing in our ears when we open the Bible today.
Mark chooses a story in which all the rules and etiquette are broken, where tension runs high and Jesus surprises us with his movement during the argument, from crude insults to humility and generosity.
Mark wants us to see how Jesus handles begin challenged:
does he choose being right or does he choose being in relationship?
does he sit stubbornly in his chair or does he add another leaf to the table?
She has to push hard, again and again, but Jesus concedes to her declaration about manna and mercy. Very well, then. Because you have said this for the sake of truth and justice for those on the edges, for love and faith because you too are hungry for God’s gifts. Because you have said this, go. Healed. Fed. Included.
Jesus has just modeled what it looks like to be moved, to be pushed toward mercy and justice, to be dared to something greater. With this scene in our hearts, Mark gets real.
The first 8 chapters whispered the Messianic Secret: Jesus is the Messiah.
The next 8 tell us what that secret means: for Jesus, for us, for the whole world.
Jesus tells them to keep this secret, but then turns to the crowd and reveals what it will look like:
The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders and the leaders, the experts and the insiders, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Peter’s not having it. And, if we’re being honest, neither are we. Suffering? Rejection? Death? This does not sound like salvation or victory. This cannot be the solution we’ve been waiting for because it doesn’t fix or conquer or honor the things on my agenda.
Peter pulls Jesus aside and tries to set him straight. Surely the Messiah comes to topple the Empire, to end misery and answer questions. No one is waiting around for someone to suffer with them, to know rejection and pain, to die yet another death. What would be the point of that sacrifice and what difference could it possibly make?
A story about Stephanie Coltvet Erdmann’s funeral:
The Time for Children story
27 female colleagues processing for Holy Communion
We wanted death defeated in this life, for her congregation to have a pastor, her husband to have his wife, her children to have their mother. We wanted an end to the misery and answers to our questions. And I still want those things. I will always want those things.
But we needed something that just happened. A secret that tiptoed into our suffering and stood shoulder to shoulder with us in our grief. The Messianic Secret. God knows suffering, rejection and death. God feels the weight of the body wanting what it cannot have and listens to us ache for any other way.
God holds us while we suffer, while we are rejected and while we die.
This is the way of the cross. There is no glorious detour around the reality of this life, the challenges we face or the distance between who Jesus is and who we’d like him to be instead.
He whispers the secret: Come and follow me, right through the pain and heartache and beauty of being human, right through the broken promises and questions that do not get answered. If you want to live, lose it. Let go of Plan A and get proximate to pain, to love, to suffering, to rejection, to death. Meltdown into the beats and breaths of creation like a fool for wonder and gratitude. That is the challenge.
That is what it means to take up your cross.
Do not tell people that I am the Messiah and you are my disciple unless you are close on my heels in the raw and wild places of this world.
I moved quickly from the scene at Stephanie’s funeral to this sanctuary for Katie and Todd’s wedding yesterday afternoon. Their family and friends were full of energy, a witness to their love and ready to make promises that will carry the couple through every full and scarce season ahead of them.
It was good to laugh and cry in layers, to feel my heart stretch – even against my own will – to make room for the spectrum of emotions and faith that come with being human.
I ambled home last night certain that I did not choose to be stretched, to feel that much, but that it was yet another sign that God does the choosing, God knows what we need, God shows up in the challenges and injustices of this life adding new leafs to the table, calling heaven’s beloved children close together, where suffering, rejection and death are the worst things, but no longer the last thing.
This is where we find our life. In the feeling. In the listening. In the being heard. May you trust that God is holding your life so that you can lose it, so your beats and breath tell the world the greatest secret never kept.
Jesus is the Christ, the Risen One, the Messiah who changes everything. Amen.