Lent 6B

March 23, 2015

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    Mark 11:1-11

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • Old Testament Lectionary

    Isaiah 50:4-9

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Many parts of the Bible that might otherwise not be very well known are well-known after all thanks to G.F. Handel’s famed oratorio Messiah. Isaiah 50 is one of them. G.F. Handel lifted up some of these words and set them to music. I have personally always been struck by the way Handel turned the word “plucked” into a two-syllable word. When the soloist sings about the Servant of the Lord being tortured, particular mention is made of the fact that they “pluck-ed off the hair” from his cheeks. The smiting of his back, the plucking off of the beard, the shame and the spitting: that all gets a lot of attention in Isaiah 50.

    But what about the far quieter way it opens? The first few verses talk about God’s Servant being a teacher, someone who could speak just the right words to sustain the weary and who, in turn, always had an open ear to hear their cries and so understand their travails. That sounds like the description of a wonderful person, a helpful person, a compassionate person. This is the kind of teacher and friend we’d all love to have be a part of our lives. So how does it happen that this very one so quickly becomes the victim of all the brutality that so swiftly follows in this passage? Why would the world want to beat up someone whose main goal is to sustain the weary and listen to the cries of the needy? It doesn’t make sense.

    But history is chockfull of just this, isn’t it? Those who speak truth to power, those who have an eye for the suffering, those who seek again and again to speak a word that could sustain and even lift up the downtrodden are so often despised, roughed up, and not too very infrequently flat out killed or assassinated. Over and again the evil get away with their misdeeds and injustices even as those who seek peace and justice are done away with.

    Whether it’s the assassin’s bullet that shatters the face of Martin Luther King, Jr., pierces the body of Mahatma Gandhi, or takes out Abraham Lincoln; whether it’s the Tiananmen Square tanks that threaten to run over non-violent students or the powers that be that sequester away in prison for years and years a Nelson Mandela—in all these examples and more beside we see that those who have a gift to speak sustaining words for the weary and who are good at listening to the cries of those who need to be heard are turned over to the smiters and the biters and the spitters and the whole shameful lot of those who carry out this world’s worst persecutions.

    All things being equal and from an objective vantage point, you just wouldn’t expect it to be this way. But every day’s newspaper shows the repetition and perpetuation of this sick cycle.

    Somehow it only makes sense, then, that God’s Servant would have to enter into those dark rhythms as perhaps the only way to break through them once and for all. This is the essence of the Gospel’s great mystery, of course, and at the head of Holy Week 2015 we enter into all that once again as we follow Jesus into the Holy City and on through to his trek to Calvarium Place. God knew—as only God could know because the rest of us would have met violence with more violence—that the only way to set things to right again in a world that crucifies its best and brightest was to go straight into all that snarled injustice and unmake it from the inside out.

    It’s a profound mystery. As preachers, let’s not cash it out by explaining it all too tidily through this or that atonement theory or schema.

    Maybe it’s enough to notice the mystery of Isaiah 50—that the wonderful Servant described in verses 4 and 5 becomes the object of the horrible abuse in verses 6-9. Let’s notice not just that this did happen but that it still happens and that is precisely why that old rugged cross is indeed the one thing to which we need to cling as it alone both understand the way this sick world works and has opened up a path to something far, far better.

    Illustration Idea

    In his book, Searching for Home, Craig Barnes claims that many people today sense the incompleteness of life as it is, but they don’t know where to look for anything better. So they keep trying to fill in the holes in their lives by indulging in food, by increasing their consumer spending, by seeking new experiences, by trying a new drug, by changing careers. But, of course, none of it satisfies for long. At one point Barnes observes that you know people have hit bottom when, instead of longing for a time when suffering will be no more, they plod on in life while never allowing their hopes to rise any higher than the furtive wish, “Maybe tomorrow we will suffer a little less.”

    That resigned attitude lets suffering have the last word. In despair, our suffering begets only more suffering in the dismal belief that suffering is what we were made for. The Gospel goes another way, seeing suffering as something that can produce hope. But this hope is not the shrunken hope that says we can do no better than try to suffer a little less. Instead Jesus gives the hope of glory that comes when you realize that by loving the unlovely and by bringing life out of death, Jesus can now give peace even in the midst of suffering.

  • The Lectionary Psalms +

    Psalm 31:9-16

    Author: Doug Bratt

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Philippians 2:5-11

    Author: Stan Mast