29th Sun [B] 2009
Isaiah 53:10-11; Hebrews 4:14-16; Mark 10:35-45
The fundamental vision of the Gospels is that the world has been corrupted by the arrogance of man. The world that is seen in the bible as being evil is not the world of beautiful flowers, glorious sunsets, and innocent children. The world about which the bible speaks is that network of relationships in which men and women attempt to arrogate unto themselves the power of God. It is the world wherein people exploit, dominate, corrupt, enslave, abuse, lie, cheat, steal, defraud, murder, rape, hate, and all such manner of things. It’s that world in which we do what we want simply because it pleases us.
Having said that, I am not here asserting that the world is totally and irreparably corrupt. What I am saying is that human nature has suffered a mortal wound… that we are born having inherited in our genes a will to assert our self over all others. Psychologists give it a name: egocentrism. Theologians also give it a name: Original Sin. We all born into it – it’s in our origins. We are not responsible for it, but we are infected by it; it is a genetic disease.
Immediately we ask: Why do innocent people, good people, have to suffer? Must we suffer in order to be saved? Do we have to suffer in order to be good? Why is it, we ask, that good and evil can co-exist? Why is it that an absolutely good God allows evil to exist?
We recoil before the enormity of it all. We all wish that the struggle were over. Many shake their fists at God and blame Him for creating a world in which evil exists. Many thereby attempt to make God responsible for all of the exploitation, violence, fraud, cheating, stealing, rape, and all other evils we commit. If God is so good, they argue, why did God create us with freedom of choice, thereby allowing us to choose against what is good? Why does God allow us to commit evil acts?
In today’s gospel account we find James and John asking Jesus to give them the glory of sitting next to Him in His kingdom. In response Jesus asks them to face the consequences of evil, to drink from the cup of suffering from which He must drink. He is challenging them to respond to the consequences of evil human choices.
Responsibility is the ability to respond, the ability to respond to reality. We are talking here about maturity, the ability to adequately respond to the truth that exists outside of ourselves. Our responsibilities must be seen in the context of the world around us. It must be seen within the fabric of all our personal relationships.
The mark of a Christian is the willingness to actively, not passively, accept and then confront the evil that exists within our selves and in the world around us. Can you, asks Jesus, drink the cup that I must drink?
It was one no less than Peter, you will recall, who, when he heard that Jesus must suffer and die, tried to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem. Jesus’ response was to call Peter a satan and to get out of His sight. Peter was suggesting avoidance; suggesting that Jesus not confront the consequences of human evil. Jesus would have none of Peter’s suggestion.
By the way, as an aside here, the path to psychological maturity is the same as the path to Christian spiritual maturity; it is the willingness to actively confront the evil in our selves and the evil found in others. It is the willingness to reject that the bible calls “the world.”
The pseudo-morality of our superficial culture tells us that we can do anything we want to so long as we don’t hurt anyone. However reasonable that seems because it sounds like an echo of the Golden Rule, it empties out the moral integrity of Jesus Christ; it reduces being a Christian to a feel-good and a “be nice” sort of religion. In other words it avoids, rather than confronts, the root causes of evil in our world.
Are pain and suffering to be avoided at all times and at all costs? At first we respond: “Of course!” But is that true? Many have resorted to overuse of alcohol or drugs in order to avoid pain. Do our athletes avoid pain? Our soldiers? Don’t we suffer pain at that hands of doctors and dentists in order to be cured of our illnesses? And what about our heroes and heroines… did not most of them face pain instead of avoiding it?
Life hands all of us its cup of suffering. As Christians we can face it, enter into it, and drink it because of Jesus Christ. Can you drink of the cup I shall drink or be baptized in the bath of pain? If you answer “yes” to Christ, then you will discover what’s really within you, the kind of character you have, and realize your potentialities by facing the world and loving people enough to change them and our world with them. It’s all a matter of loving others so much, even those who hurt us, that we do not cast them aside.
We cannot, however, be so foolish as to believe that loving like that is human. We have to recognize that it takes a love that is divine in order to move mountains like that. Because of Jesus Christ and with Him we are not powerless in the face of the Evil One; we are not powerless in meeting the monstrosity of evil that confronts us. We have a source of power -- a way, a truth, and a life -- that can change us and change others. It appears to many people that it is an absurdity, madness, to be a Christian. Many think that being a Christian is a cop-out. However, in a world that has gone insane, in a world that is totally mad with the lust for power, exploitation, lies, and violence, in a world addicted to sin, the only sanity left will be appear to be insanity.
Following in Jesus’ footsteps means not listening to the voice of those who counsel us to avoid pain at all costs, even at the cost of our souls. Following Jesus we, with Him, drink of the cup of suffering in order to confront evil and all that has gone mad in our world. That’s the only way to reach spiritual and psychological maturity.
We are not responsible for all the evil in the world, not responsible in the sense that God will hold us individually accountable for it. We will, however, be held accountable for our response to evil. God expects us to be mature and adult Christians; God calls us to be like His Son and to love the world enough to save it in Christ's power, not escape from it. God expects us to love those whom we encounter with Christ's Spirit-filled love, a love that can change the ordinary bread and wine of our lives into the Body and Blood of His risen Christ -- risen and victim no longer. Because of Christ and in Christ we need no longer be be vicitimzed by this world's evils.