Mark 14: 53-72
This is a tough part of the story, and as stated by Adam Hamilton, who is the author of the book that is inspiring my sermons this Lent, this is the most difficult point for self-reflection. If we are to place ourselves as characters in this scripture, we will inevitably place ourselves as either the Sanhedrin, or Peter.
In both of those cases, Christ is denied, Christ is abused, and Christ is handed over to be killed.
This is also who we are.
The Sanhedrin was a group of seventy elders of the Jews, and not just of Jerusalem-for all of Judaism at that time. They were the political descendants of the seventy that Moses gathered at the command of God to help him govern the Israelites in the desert some 200 years before. They are the most holy, the most religious, the most righteous, in the world, so it is believed.
And here they are, spitting on a man.
And here they are, covering up a man’s face and beating him.
It’s as if you gathered every pastor you’ve ever admired, male and female, every Bishop, and gathered them together at midnight to secretly try a mouthy homeless man, then they spit in his face, then put a bag over his head and beat him.
This is exactly how stark a reality we’re talking about. And why are they doing all of this?
Because he threatens their way of life. Their power. Their way of existence; their comfort; their connections to the Romans and to the law. Jesus threatens all of that.
And he’s not even threatening them with a substitute, competitive system. He wants to change EVERYTHING. Completely.
These are the most religious people in their society, and when they are threatened with the dissolution of their system of advantage and privilege, they respond like thugs.
We might want to think at some point; “we could never do that, we are followers of Christ!”
Perhaps, but I invite you to interview any number of women clergy who were the first ones into the churches they serve. I invite you to interview any number of pastors of color, and ask them how they were treated in some of their first appointments. Things haven’t changed all that much. Perhaps we don’t spit anymore, perhaps we don’t punch anymore, maybe we’re more decorous, more polite, but we will still see someone who shares our faith but practices it differently, and we won’t always respond with grace and peace and acceptance.
What was the system that Jesus wanted to bring to his society? What were the Sanhedrin so afraid of? What are we so afraid of?
Adam Hamilton, in his chapter of the book we’re using, quotes a passage from 1 John, one of the tiny little letters right before Revelation in the back of the Christian testament. Here is what he quotes:
God is love, and those who remain in love remain in God and God remains in them. 17This is how love has been perfected in us, so that we can have confidence on the Judgment Day, because we are exactly the same as God is in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear expects punishment. The person who is afraid has not been made perfect in love. 19We love because God first loved us. 20If anyone says, I love God, and hates a brother or sister, he is a liar, because the person who doesn’t love a brother or sister who can be seen can’t love God, who can’t be seen. 21This commandment we have from him: Those who claim to love God ought to love their brother and sister also. –Common English Bible
This is what people were so afraid of. Perfect love casts out fear. The opposite of fear isn’t confidence or courage. It is isn’t comfort. The Biblical opposite of fear is love. And the Christian life is a constant journey to seek to love those whom we hate. It takes strength, it takes work, it takes attention, to cast our fear. And the first step of that is an honest humble assessment of what it is we are truly afraid of.
So what are you afraid of?
Are you afraid of the people who are moving into town with a different color skin? Are you afraid of family and the scars they have left on you? Are you afraid of change of any kind? Are you afraid of death?
All of these examples, which are surely paltry when compared with the fears of whomever reads this, can be eradicated by love and work. It takes work.
Lent is the time when we begin to do that work. Sometimes, Lent isn’t even the time when we start and finish. Sometimes Lent is merely the time we dedicate to clarifying the problem! Easter, then, begins the real work.
Perfect love casts out fear. We are all afraid of something. My prayer for you all is to have confidence in the truth that God’s love is sufficient for everything you need to fight, to conquer, to overcome. Trust in God’s love, and with honesty, and work, it will be enough.
It will be enough.
I pray that my words have been the Lords’ intention this day, Amen.