That was when Jesus came. He arrived from Nazareth and John dunked him in the Jordan River. As he emerged from the water he saw the universe as it really is, and he felt it resonate to his core: that he was God’s precious child, and God was joy.
But as soon as this had happened, the vision cast Jesus into a desert of uncertainty, where for 40 days he wrestled with the Resistance, where he came face to face with fear, and still the divine vision endured. Then, when John was arrested, Jesus returned to Galilee where he started working toward the goal. “It starts now,” he said. “The goal is close. Turn your life around! It’s going to be awesome.”
In the context of the first Sunday in Lent, the first two of the comments above will be the most immediately relevant, and especially the second. Also, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art
ought to be required reading for sermon preparation this Sunday. If you want an abbreviated version, read Pressfield’s own Cliffs Notes version: Do the Work.
This passage begins with the moment Jesus knows clearly who he is and what he is called to do. Immediately, he is also confronted with every reason why he should forget everything he knows and just go back to being an ordinary guy from nowheresville. These two experiences go hand in hand. It’s the human condition that you never know one without the other. Jesus was no exception. You and I are no exception. Your little church (or your big church) is no exception. The moment you know most clearly who you are and what God/the world/your soul requires of you is the moment when you will encounter the Resistance to doing it. It’s this simultaneous knowing and resisting the move from knowing to being which introduces the theme for Year B Lent.
For Jesus, the entire ministry – everything from here to the cross – is born (and borne) out of this tension between Vocation and Resistance. Against the Resistance, may your Lenten journey be one in which the divine vision endures. Turn your life around. It’s going to be awesome!
Six days after this, Jesus took Peter, Jim, and John with him to the top of a high mountain. While they were there alone, right before their eyes, Jesus changed. His clothes lit up, a brighter white than in a bleach commercial. Elijah and Moses appeared from nowhere and were talking with Jesus.
Then Peter interrupted, saying to Jesus, “Teacher, it’s a good thing we’re here. We’ll make three kiosks: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” They were all so shocked, he didn’t really know what he was talking about.
Just then, a cloud came casting a shadow over them, and from the cloud they heard a voice saying, “This is my son whom I love. Listen to him.” As suddenly as it had all appeared, they looked around and there was just Jesus, by himself.
As they descended the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone what they’d seen until the chosen one had lived beyond death.
Peter’s response is like looking at a light bulb and going blind instead of looking around the room and understanding what the light from the bulb reveals.
Here in the middle of the gospel, we get a vision of Jesus. With Moses and Elijah who represent the law and the prophets who came before, and with the voice of God ringing in our ears, the gospel proclaims that this is unmistakeably the one at the center of the movement. Like the succession of Elijah, this is not a matter of genealogical inheritance (Mark doesn’t include a genealogy) or the result of a popularity contest. It’s a matter of vision. It’s a matter of hearing and following. Jesus is the one on whom the spirit rests.
At the same time, here in the middle of the gospel, we find the tension between the vision that the movement stands for, and the tendency to reduce that vision and movement to an institution. Peter’s attempt to nail the movement down to a particular time and place voices our constant propensity to turn Jesus the person into Jesus the business model. Mark’s response to that impetus is clear, “Peter didn’t really know what he was talking about.” A living movement cannot be captured in one snapshot moment. A living movement lives from one moment to the next. The moment it gets nailed down is the moment it starts to die. Thus, it’s at the moment Peter proposes turning the movement into a building that the dark cloud appears. It’s the same darkness that covers the sky at the cross.
When they arrived in Capernaum, back at the house he asked them, “What were you all arguing about on the way here?” None of them answered, because they’d been arguing about which of them was the most important.
So he called the twelve of them together and said, “Whoever wants to be the most important has to be the least important and serve all the rest.” Then he held a little child in his arms in the midst of their circle and said, “Whoever welcomes a child like this on my behalf welcomes me. If you want to welcome me, you’ve got to embrace not just me, but the whole reason I’m here.”
It’s easy to romanticize childhood and children. So much is made of “childhood innocence.” But, even for those who look back fondly on happy childhood days, it wasn’t always easy. Children are, of all people, the most vulnerable, in part because they are not really considered fully people yet. Not legally, not socially, not developmentally.
For the vast majority of the world’s children, childhood is no picnic. Entirely dependent on the whims of the adults around them, they suffer in disproportional numbers from poverty, hunger, and sickness and all kinds of abuse and neglect. They are in many places around the world, exploited for slave labor and other unspeakable atrocities. Children are, of all people, most in need of protection and welcome. Not just the ones who happen to be behaving well. Not just when we feel like it. All of them. All the time.
Whatever your project is, whatever aims or ambitions or dreams you have, Jesus says that they will stand or fall on how well they serve the children. Not just the abstract idea of children. Real children. The ones you come in contact with every day. If you really want to be great and do great things but you’re not sure if your idea is a very good one, consider what your children, your grandchildren, and your great grandchildren will think of having to live with it. That’s all you really need to know.