We have begun our journey into the Lenten season. It may be a good time for a refresher on the relationship of this season to the Gospel story.
In a January 7, 2011 post, “Epiphany and the Days to Come,” I pointed out that the Epiphany season is representative of the first half of the story we read in the Synoptic Gospels. These are the days when Jesus reveals God’s glory. The Light of the world has dawned in our darkness.
- The Child is recognized as the King whose star lit up the heavens.
- The divine voice affirms his identity as he rises from the waters of baptism.
- Jesus travels throughout the land and the sick are healed, the hungry are fed, the dead are raised, multitudes hear the Good News, disciples are called, trained, and sent forth, and Satan falls from heaven like lightning.
- At the climax of this revelation, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ.
- Then Jesus takes three disciples to the mountaintop and is transfigured before them in divine glory.
From that point on, Jesus’ teaching was dominated by predictions of his impending death and the disciples proved how “slow of heart” they were time and time again as their Master pulled back from the crowds and focused more specifically on the Twelve and the dynamics of discipleship.
From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
• Matthew 16:21
“From that time…” This is the journey we travel in Lent, a journey to Jesus’ cross, and a journey of learning what it means to take up our cross and follow him.
Let’s briefly survey part two of the Gospel of Mark to see this emphasis on the struggles of the disciples as they make this journey with Jesus.
- After Peter confesses Christ and Jesus begins to teach about the cross, the Lord must rebuke Peter for his rejection of the message. Then Jesus teaches them about taking up the cross and following. (8:31-38)
- After the Transfiguration, they descend the mountain, and the disciples are incapable of casting out an unclean spirit from an afflicted boy. (9:14-29)
- Jesus again foretells his death, but the disciples fail to understand. (9:30-32)
- Along the road, they argue with one another about who is the greatest. (9:33-37)
- They try to stop another exorcist, casting out demons in Jesus’ name, but Jesus forbids them, and then teaches them about causing others to stumble and being at peace with one another. (9:38-49)
- The disciples struggle to understand Jesus’ teaching about marriage and divorce. (10:1-12)
- The disciples rebuke children when they try to come to Jesus. (10:13-16)
- They find it hard to understand Jesus’ teaching about how hard it is for the rich to enter God’s kingdom. (10:17-31)
- After a third Passion prediction, James and John ask for seats next to Jesus’ throne in glory. (10:35-43)
- The disciples join the crowd in rebuking blind Bartimaeus for crying out to Jesus for mercy. (10:46-52)
That is the journey from Peter’s confession to the entrance to Jerusalem. The next story is that of the Triumphal Entry — Holy Week arrives. But the road that gets us there is marked by failure, misunderstanding, missing the point repeatedly, conflict and arguing — a general inability to grasp what Jesus is saying and doing. Every story emphasizes how the disciples fell short.
I call this “Jesus’ Discipleship Training Program.” It consists of two parts:
- Teaching his followers things they do not understand.
- Putting them in situations where they fail time and time again.
This is how Jesus turns us into disciples!
Remember, this is a journey to the cross. On our way we need to learn why we must go there. It is not because of our great wisdom and ability to be good disciples. It’s because of our weakness and sinfulness, our lack of faith and spiritual insight, our failure to love and be generous toward others, our discomfort with God and his ways. It is because we need forgiveness, cleansing, and renewal.
Lent is not so much about giving up something as a spiritual discipline, though there is a place for that. It’s more about giving up. It’s about learning to die. Daily.
The second part of the Gospel story is not pretty. Or easy. You can’t program discipleship like this and put it between the covers of a three-ring binder. It’s about stumbling and falling, ripping holes in the knees of my jeans and getting covered with mud. It’s a demanding hike along a difficult path.
To a cross.