(2/28) Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 • Psalm 22:23-31 • Romans 4:13-25 • Mark 8:31-38 or Mark 9:2-9
As this week's Mark reading opens, danger is in the air. Jesus is predicting trouble ahead – his own death at the hands of the chief religious leaders. Like any loyal disciple, Peter tries to deny the reality of what they were facing; like any true leader, Jesus will have none of that.
How hard it must have been for Jesus, to look in the faces of the disciples and the crowds who were following him, knowing that he could not protect them from the difficulties ahead. They had to be told the truth; and then they had to find a way to face up to it. To put it to them clearly, he says, after all, what use is it to win the world and lose your life?
What use indeed. Jesus, always the big picture thinker, had something bigger in mind than winning the world. He was interested in positioning people to own their lives. Only those who had gotten clear about their loyalties were eligible for such a high stakes event. It was not a time for relaxing. The people in the Mark story were on high alert for danger.
For many of us, the past year has been a year to be on alert. We now utter the expression stay safe as though this were a normal way of saying good-bye. But the constant requirement for alertness to danger can exhausting for human beings on both physical and emotional levels. While I do not think the Mark reading is inviting us to a constant vigilance, I do think it is asking each of us to consider to what extent one is in danger of winning the world and losing one's life.
The danger of being led astray by one's "wins" seems less than obvious. Usually, winning is seen as bringing energy and strength. But the scripture is quite clear on this point. The accolades of the world can quickly cause a person to forget what matters to her. The excitement of the world can somehow move a person to disregard her own best ideas and principles. Looking for others to be more appreciative is, over time, destined for failure. Losing one's life then follows as a sad and uninteresting last act, as the person has continually given up or compromised much of herself along the way.
On the other hand, a person under pressure can choose to remain loyal to her principles. Or, in what's perhaps a more natural pattern, as a person grows in maturity and understanding of her principles, she can choose to act on them. Moreover, she can choose to act differently in the present than she did in the past. When possible, she can find ways to go back and repair or rebuild damaged relationships. A line from an old prayer comes to mind: time for amendment of life.
Each of us who has lived to see another day has been granted time to amend – to modify – one's life. It is the taking hold of one's existence that matters. All of us die. In the meantime, though, one has many choices in one's daily intentions and one's part in relationship processes. All of this is up to the individual and the world cannot take it away!
At the same time, existence here on earth is time-limited; death comes for all creatures. Getting comfortable with one's mortality is a tall order – tackled by great thinkers from St. Francis (see his 13th century canticle featuring Sister Death) to Todd Billing (in a 2020 book, The End of the Christian Life). At the high end, perhaps, embracing one's eventual demise reflects a fully developed inner capacity for harnessing the intellectual and the emotional systems together. At a minimum, death can serve as a useful reminder that one doesn't have forever, here, to amend one's life. Getting started is what matters: Right away, or, as Mark says over 40 times in this short book, "Immediately!"
Morning: How do I want to amend my life?
Evening: When did I get distracted by the world today?
Psalm 22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!