Fifth Sunday of the Great Fast
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the Scribes; and they will condemn him to death, and will deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him, and spit on him, and scourge him and put him to death...
Mark 10: 33, 34.
In days past faithful believers called this day Passion Sunday because our Lord announces far before hand the impending future.
And, of course, we see where the mind and thinking of some of the disciples was. They are concerned about the present, physical, quickly passing needs, worldly needs. They apparently forgot the reminder of our Lord, If the world hates you, be aware it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you John 15: 18, 19. The Lord is enunciating eternal realities, but men around him want to enter into discussion about earthly security and recognition.
No one is free from the risk of persecution or the wiles of the world ... but how serious is it for Christians who are unwilling to suffer for their own sins when He who had no sin suffers for us! The Son of God suffered in order to make us children of God, but people won't suffer to continue being children of God! If we suffer from the world's hatred, Christ first endured the world's hatred and enmity! If we suffer rebukes in this world, if exile and torture await us, the Maker and Lord of the world experienced even harder things than these. We must also remember his poignant reminder; The servant is no greater than his master. If they persecute me, the will also persecute you John 15: 20.
Whatever our Lord God taught, He did so that disciple who should have been eager to learn, have no excuse not to do what they have been taught. But make no mistake, no fancy or lofty words must ever disguise the fact that choosing suffering is not normal. Human beings avoid suffering and prefer not to think about death. Given a choice, we prefer better weather. We are eager to take an aspirin. We appreciate a cushion. We quickly come in out of the cold. We do not go down dark alleys. We do not drive cars without brakes. Anyone who chooses pain is odd, if not a masochist, in the eyes of most of us.
The gospel message, however, is unambiguously clear about the cost of discipleship and also that the call of Jesus to discipleship is the echo of the call of the Eternal Father to him. Called to be the Messiah, Jesus knew He must suffer and be what appeared a contradiction in terms: a rejected Messiah. But He lays this necessity on the disciples too, and on us as well. Just as Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the one anointed to suffer for our sin, only insofar as He suffers and is rejected, so the disciples of Jesus are obedient to the call of the Lord insofar as they are prepared pay the cost.
What the disciples fail to consider are the words offered them on another occasion, But I will send you the Comforter, the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will tell you all about me John 15: 26. When our Lord related to his followers the truthful reality of the Holy Spirit, He conveyed to them the Greek word literally means one who comes alongside. So this title pictures one person, coming close to another, alongside, to guide as on a pathway; to advise as a lawyer in a court of law; to counsel as a therapist or spiritual father or a trusted friend; to speak words of concern as in a hospital room, or to comfort us as we mourn over our sins or the loss of a loved one at graveside.
Clearly our heavenly Father sends the Spirit upon all believers. And He counsels by telling the truth about Jesus our Lord and Saviour, assuring believers of Christ's true identity, forgiveness of sin, love and salvation.
The disciples are confused today and do not know which way to turn. Truth and assurance faces them, but they do not recognize him. So you feel lost, wondering which way to turn? You are not alone. The Holy Spirit stands beside you and will guide you on God's way. Do you feel accosted and accused? You are not alone. The Spirit of God comes to your defense. Do you feel confused, frustrated, anxious and fearful? You are not alone. The Counselor is with you to give you hope and to teach you how to live and respond to the challenges of life. Do you feel devastated by loss and overcome with grief? You are not alone. The Comforter from heaven is close, wrapping his arms around you and whispering words of love and encouragement.
These things I speak to you, that in me you might have peace. In the world you shall have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world John 16: 33. In the midst of trouble, we must not pursue foolish escapes or vain things or yield to fear in the midst of perceived trouble. We are, no doubt, flattered by deception and weighed down by troubles, but because ...the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord, Psalms 33: 5, Christ's victory is ours because he fulfills what He taught. So then whether we fight against the ambition of the world, the lusts of the flesh, or against the darts of heresy and wrong belief and understanding, we must always arm ourselves with the cross of the Lord. We should remember the instruction of the Apostle Paul, "Your attitude must be that of Christ: Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at Rather, he emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being borne in the likeness of man. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross. Because of this, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee must bend in the heavens and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father, Jesus Christ is Lord! Philippians 2: 6 - 11.
But after speaking of tribulation in the world, the Lord continues, I have overcome the world John 16: 33. St. Dionysius of Alexandria goes on to say, "He taught the disciples to pray that they would not fall into temptation and be distracted by the cares of the world. To show that this implied not only they would not be tempted but that they would be saved from evil, so He added, deliver us from evil Luke 11: 4. What difference is here between being tempted and falling or entering into temptation? Well, if a person is overcome by evil and he will be overcome unless he struggles against it, and unless God protects him with his shield of grace, that person has entered into temptation and has been taken captive to it. But if one resists and endures, one is tempted but has not entered into temptation or fallen under it. Therefore, the wicked one draws us into evil temptations when he tempts us. But God tests us as one untempted by evil. For God, it is said, cannot be tempted by evil. The devil therefore, drive us on by violence, drawing us to destruction. Our heavenly Father leads us by the hand, training us for our salvation as Chris does the two disciples" in today's gospel narrative.
Let him have our hand as well!