Living Through A Tragedy
(Lectionary Starters)

Palm/Passion Sunday, Year B
April 13, 2003
Mark 15:1-39
Jim Killen, A minister of the United Methodist Church, Beaumont, TX

We have read the story of a tragedy. It is the story of something – and someone – alive and beautiful and good, being crushed out by all that is cruel in the world. Of course we know that the end of the story will come next Sunday, on Easter Sunday, and that it will be a happy ending. But that happy ending can’t mean what it should to us unless we have experienced the depth of the tragedy of the crucifixion of Jesus – and unless we realize how this tragedy represents the kind of tragedy that is going on in our world every day.

I. We can experience the tragedy if we try to imagine the human thoughts of Jesus as he went through his last days.

Yes, Jesus was God with us. But Jesus was also one like us, one of us. We can assume that he must have had human thoughts like our own.

Jesus must have remembered the freshness and excitement of the beginning of his ministry. It had only been three years ago. It must have seemed much longer. Then, God had shown him a better way for all people. It had seemed so clear cut then. If people would just pay attention to the really important things and forget the rest, if they would learn to trust God and to love each other, everything could be so different. When he committed himself to the work to which God had called him, his resolve was so firm. And the first responses seemed so positive. He was offering everyone the hope of the world and they seemed to be accepting it. Somehow he knew even then that his purpose would not be accomplished without suffering – but that seemed far away then.

Then the opposition and disappointments began. He was disappointed to realize that some who responded so enthusiastically were just caught up with a fad and that some just wanted free medical help and even his most devoted followers really didn’t understand. Some of the good people of the communities where he preached, felt that he was threatening their precious traditions and the security they gave. And in the distance there were the threatening shadows of the Roman rulers and of the powerful among his own people who would not tolerate any threat to their wealth and power.

The conflicts continued to get worse. We can’t know whether Jesus knew exactly when and how he would die, but it is clear that he knew it was a real possibility, a possibility he accepted with courage. He thought the accomplishment of his purpose was worth the cost. When he entered Jerusalem to the cheers of the crowd, he knew that they were making the right response – but it wouldn’t last. The story unfolds in a tragic way.

What are the powers that were moving to crush Jesus and the new possibility that he offered to us all? There was the greedy selfishness of the powerful who would not let anyone or anything threaten their advantage. There was the fear of those who did not dare to stand up to them. There was the angry bitterness and hatred of the mob that could be manipulated for destructive purposes. There was the cowardice of the friends who ran away and left Jesus to stand his trial alone. And there was the indifference of the vast majority who probably didn’t know or care what was going on.

These powers closed in on Jesus so that at last the young teacher with a bright message of hope for all people, died a painful and disgraceful death, feeling very alone, abandoned by his friends and feeling forsaken by God. At the last, when pain was excruciating, the light began to dim, did he even have doubts about his purpose? There is nothing here but tragedy.

II. Can you see that same tragedy going on around you now?

There is always that within us and round us that loves life and wants to live it in its fullness. There is that which wants to trust and to love and that wants others to. Sometimes that identifies itself as Christian and sometimes it doesn’t, but wherever love and life are real, they are that which was represented by Christ.

The cruel forces that work to crush out the beautiful and good are still at work too. There is still bitterness and there is still fear and these both still boil up into anger and hatred that can destroy. There is still greedy selfishness that is always trying to seize power and use it against others to promote its own advantage. There is still a kind of blindness that is so accustomed to seeing only little things or bad things that it can’t see anything great and good. And there is still a kind of preoccupation with self that makes people indifferent to anything that doesn’t either prosper or hurt them. These are the same destructive forces that were at work in the tragedy that ended the life of Jesus.

You can see these tragedies being played out in our world where poverty makes families sell their daughters into slavery in order to survive; where the conflicts between nations and ideologies causes young soldiers to bleed to death on battlefields and forces millions to live as refugees; where the desire of some to be very rich works in ways that make some others very poor.

Where do you see the tragedy being played out in your own community? Is there abuse? Is there insensitivity to need? Is there loneliness and lostness? Is there bigotry? Is there exploitation?

Look even closer. Is the tragedy being played out within your own life? Is the yearning for life and love being crushed? Are your disappointments crushing hope? Have you heard constantly a voice saying that whatever has to do with making money is important and everything else is not?

III. How will you participate in that tragedy?

Oh yes, you will participate in it. If you think you can just ignore it, then you have opted for indifference and that always supports cruelty.

Are the cruel forces at work in your life? Is there fear or bitterness or hostility or hate or selfish greed. Are you so caught up in the cruel processes that rule our world that they are able to govern your life even when you don’t want them to. Do you sometimes wake up to what you are doing with your life and not like it, like the centurion who had just crucified Jesus only to realize that he was the Son of God?

Is the love for life – and the desire for a life of love – still alive within you? Do you yearn for something better for yourself and for others?

Do you have the courage to become an advocate of the beautiful and the good even if you know it will be costly to you? Are you willing to take up the cross and follow Jesus and become a part of the hope of the world?

Do you dare to look beyond the tragedy and to believe that there is one who is love, who is greater than all of the cruelty of the world, one who will ultimately win the victory? Do you dare to hang on to the hope that will give you courage to keep on loving?

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