"Those who passed by derided [Jesus] ..."
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Friday, February 26th: Genesis 16:1-6; Psalm 22:23-31; and Romans 4:1-12. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is our second Lenten Friday. All of Lent’s 40 days are opportunities to grow closer to a Saviour who was willing to die obscurely for people too often unmoved, but Lenten Fridays draw us in even more closely. Alexei Navalny or Aung San Suu Kyi are two current examples of persecuted individuals. They, however, have the eyes of the world upon them. They have people marching in their own countries on their behalf. They are not forgotten or ignored. Their suffering is in the spotlight, and this imparts dignity and poignancy to what they endure.
Jesus, though, dies alone and rejected like most all who suffer the trauma of persecution. I am drawn to the stark simplicity of Mark’s style. In this earliest Gospel, there are no sympathetic faces for Jesus to look upon from the cross. Rather, there is the cold indifference of the Roman soldiers who have hammered nails through His body and who then beneath His cross gamble for who should get what piece of His clothing, His last and only earthly possessions.
Worse than this indifference is the mockery offered by the very ones Jesus devoted His ministry to and for whom He was willing to suffer and die. Those who “passed by” (Mark 15:29) derided Him, but I imagine their act of simply passing by was a heavier burden to pay. Jesus was dying basically unnoticed as people went about their excited business to prepare for an upcoming celebration.
Jesus’ persecution was not like that of Navalny or Aung San Suu Kyi. He was forgotten and ignored. And yet Jesus accepted the cross. His conviction was so deep-seated that Jesus would sacrifice Himself regardless of the reaction of others. His love for us is so ineffable that it exemplifies His teaching: “‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.’” (Luke 6:32) It is challenging to meditate upon Christ’s love for us as proactive, not responsive. Jesus doesn’t love us because we first love Him. Jesus loves us because He can do nothing less. And yet still today people choose to forget or ignore.
On these Lenten Fridays especially, I ask that we think about the message of the Psalmist: “For [the Lord] did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.” Our suffering Saviour will never hide his face from any of us. Let us not hide our faces from Him.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Massachusetts Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.macucc.org/lectionary.
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