To save your life

Second Sunday in Lent; 28 February 2021; Lent 2B (RCL); Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Psalm 22:22-30; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38.

For Paul, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus inaugurated the final phase of God’s plan for Israel. Israel was to judge the world and establish God’s reign on earth. But Israel had misunderstood God’s purposes, thinking they applied only to Israel as God’s chosen people. Instead, Paul believed, Israel was to be a light to the nations, working salvation for the whole world.

Jesus’ suffering and death recapitulated Israel’s suffering, and was redemptive for all. Jesus’ resurrection was the down-payment on the resurrection of all. For that reason, Paul sought to show that the covenant with Abraham applied not to Israel in the flesh alone, but to all the nations. Paul’s mixed Jewish/Gentile Christian communities were the avant-garde of God’s reign, God’s new Empire. The whole creation was groaning in expectation of the birth of this new reality. God could bring this new reality into existence from nothing.

We, in America, have long thought that we are God’s gift to the world. Paul would have something to say to us. It is not by becoming American that God intends to save the nations, but by our death and resurrection. We have misunderstood the purpose of our election. It is not that we should rule the world, and export out way of living to others, but that we should embrace the other, and share God’s table with all. That means giving up our sense of entitlement and uniqueness.

The reading from Mark’s Gospel includes Jesus’ first prediction of his passion, although the phrase “Son of Man” can be read to mean simply “the human being.” Peter scolds Jesus, and Jesus in turn scolds Peter, and then instructs us all that if we want to be his followers, we must take up our cross to do so. Again, I think this means that we have to surrender any sense of uniqueness or entitlement. We are mortal just like the rest of the world. If we think we can save our life, if we think that we can forestall our death or mortality, we end up cutting ourselves off from everyone else. That is the surest way to lose our lives.

If this pandemic has taught us nothing else, it has taught us just how connected we are to the whole world. Who knew that world depended on the people who stock the shelves at grocery stores? We usually get annoyed with them because they are in the way. But without them, there is nothing for us to buy. Who knew that a virus in Wuhan, China could travel the world in a matter of weeks? Our local economy cannot be cleanly separated from the local economy anywhere else in the world. If we think we are special, that we are immune from what happens elsewhere, we will certainly lose our lives.

To save our lives, we need to acknowledge those connections, to accept our mortality, our dependence on the truck drivers, the shelf-stockers, the merchants and shoppers at markets half-way around the world. We need to acknowledge that we all sit at the same table. We need to take up our cross and follow Jesus on the road to Jerusalem.

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