4 min. to read.
Today is the 3rd day of Lent.
I’m continuing my series of Lenten reflections. I’m reading through pastor Brian Zahnd’s Lent devotional The Unvarnished Jesus. As a practice of my own, I’ll be posting daily (or near daily) short reflections on the scriptures chosen.
Today’s scripture is Mark 10:32-45.
In this scene, Jesus tells the disciples yet again about what will happen to him when he arrives in Jerusalem. One more time, they completely miss what he says. For them, heading to Jerusalem means occupying the seat of power. They fully expect Jesus to inaugurate a new order of things.
James and John, not wanting to get left out, pull Jesus aside and ask if they can have positions of power at his left- and right-hand side. Their request is absurd in retrospect. Jesus’ throne will be the cross. That is where the glory of God will be revealed–a God who invites rather than compels, a God who enters into our disgrace rather than retreating behind power, a God who is willing to let us throw our temper tantrums of violence and absorb the pain and loss so that we can see a better way. Asking to sit at the left and right of Jesus’ throne is to ask for martyrdom. They have no idea.
The disciples were caught up in a belief system that the only way to get good things done is by using the means of human power. With Jesus at the head of their government, inspiring the troops and providing free food, they would push back the Roman occupiers and throw out the corrupt officials in league with Rome. Good violence pushing out bad violence. As much as that makes sense in the context of human political history, it is not Jesus’ path.
As I read this passage, I feel urgent pressure to start naming names. See?! Look at these Christian leaders who have fallen into the same trap, preaching that Christians’ primary goal ought to be taking control of government in order to bring about God’s will. Look at how we’re compromising our witness by our single-issue stubbornness, hoping to solve one problem while ignoring a hundred others. Think of how many times we’ve heard or said, “If only we could get more Christians into leadership in this company… in this city…. in our school district… in this country!”
But as all those names and faces fly through my awareness, I’m conscious of something else. My intense desire to name those names obscures the temptation I feel myself. I also have a view of what a good society looks like. I also wish and pray for the ascendancy of leaders who align with my views. And sometimes, when I see people doing things I disagree with, things I believe deeply hurt the community, I also want someone stronger to come along and slap them down.
Listening to James and John, I’m reminded that I too can get caught up in the belief that power and violence is just a tool, without moral valence, waiting for the right person to pick it up and use it. History and scripture both tell us this is an illusion. Power and violence have their own energy, their own gravity, that inevitably changes the moral DNA of those who depend on them.
Zahnd writes, “We think of love as mere sentiment, while accepting violence as true power,” and I know deeply in my heart his diagnosis is correct. Again, Zahnd: “Jesus explained to his disciples that though the way of empires is to seek domination, ‘it shall not be so among you.’ The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love, not domination. As followers of Jesus we are called to the practice of radical patience, because the kingdom of God is without coercion. We persuade by love, witness, Spirit, reason, rhetoric, and if need by, by martyrdom, but never by force.”
Lent invites us to let go of the tools of domination. This way leads to life.