You have heard it said that the sacrifice of Jesus occurs at the cross. While one cannot deny that perspective, I wonder if his sacrificial acts don’t start long before the cross. During the period of Lent we follow the journey of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem; a journey that starts with baptism and ends with crucifixion.
I see the sacrifice of Jesus playing out in each step of this journey. Immediately after baptism, and subsequently confirmation, Jesus is immediately driven to the wilderness where he is tempted. Mark doesn’t go into detail about these temptations, however the term itself implies a desire to do something that will often result in an unwise consequence. To turn our back on temptation is a sacrifice. While not part of the Lenten readings, as Jesus begins his ministry he immediately becomes known as a healer, but quickly recognized healing, as important as that is in transforming lives, in itself is not going to accomplish his mission. Jesus’ mission is not just to transform lives, it is to transform systems.
Transforming lives happens more or less on an individual basis. Sure it can have ripple effects to family and friends, but transforming systems affects each individual within the system. These transformations change the way people think and interact with one another. First century Palestine is occupied by the unjust, foreign forces of the Roman Empire. In their territory it is being governed by a Jewish family who has forsaken their own people for the sake of personal gain. While the religious leaders; i.e. Pharisees and Scribes, are not happy with the situation, in times of turmoil it is fairly common to think that if we can just get back to the way things used to be, the future will become the romanticized version of the past. Add into that the Pharisees are rule bound by nature, the situation calls for overzealousness to the rules.
In Jesus’ lifetime he has seen all this play out. He has seen the Zealots and other Jewish militia type groups revolt against the Roman government, the Sampson taking on Goliath if you will, only to see that most revolts fair terribly for his tradition. Jesus recognized he must create an alternative vision for his people; a vision that is going to call out injustice and seek reform in the political as well as faith realm. Jesus is not ignorant of the Pax Roma, the Peace of Rome. This is not the peace of shalom, this is the peace of coercion; either one stays in line or suffer the cross. The choice is yours.
Jesus is not blind to this situation, nor is he ignorant of the likelihood the religious leaders will unite with government if it appears it will be in their best interest; they succumb to their temptations. As such the whole journey from Galilee, the place where ministry starts, to Jerusalem becomes a sacrifice. It becomes the yielding of self; the knowing that speaking out against the religious and political powers of the day is not going to fair well for the one who does so in the end. It is releasing of personal safety and gain for the benefit of the greater, common good knowing that the cross will culminate the journey.
Often the journey of Lent for us means the giving up of something, however in many instances, including my own, rarely has it meant there would be a net increase to the common good. What if my vision of discipleship in Christ is too small? What are the religious, political or other systems I’m a part of that need reformed not just for my sake, but for the sake of others?
Gracious, Merciful God, in this season of Lent open my eyes and heart. Help me to see and use the now unknown resources at my disposal to create change not only for me and mine, but for the greater part of your here and now kingdom. In the name of The One who gave so others might live, Amen.