The Common Good
April 2009

Believing What's True

by Michaela Bruzzese | April 2009

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary for April.

We enter Holy Week stripped of all that stood between us and God just weeks ago. During Lent, Mark’s gospel led us to cleanse our lives of idols that told us it was okay to stay in our “comfortable religion” space, where we weren’t challenged to act in the world on behalf of life and God’s plan of liberation for the oppressed.

The Messianic secret unique to Mark is fully revealed in the passion and the cross. Mark’s Jesus suffers because of his loyalty to those who suffer. It is not suffering for the sake of suffering, nor suffering willed by God, but suffering that is a consequence of the struggle for justice in a world in which people freely choose evil in all its manifestations.

Only when we are prepared to face (and live) this reality does Mark lead us to the resurrection. His account is the most sparse, direct, and open-ended of any gospel author and more a beginning than an end to the story. Our task is its completion. During the weeks following the resurrection, the disciples struggle to understand what has happened and its implications for their faith. In the end, their understanding of the resurrection is less important than their faith that it happened, for such faith impels them to become full ambassadors of Christ in the world, entering the struggle for redemption and bearing the cross that comes with it. Christ is risen! Alleluia!

Now let’s get to work.

Michaela Bruzzese, a Sojourners contributing writer, lives in Brooklyn, New York.

April 5
Liberated for Freedom
Isaiah 50:4-9; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Mark 14:1 - 15:47

The silence and introspection of this sacred time come to an abrupt end with the “triumphant” entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, which seems contrived to fulfill scripture more than anything else. It stands in stark contrast to Jesus’ insistence throughout Mark’s gospel that the new reign is not about traditional kingship. Rather, the Messiah will suffer the consequences for refusing to abandon the disinherited and for insisting that the new reign of God has no room for dichotomies that divide and exclude. Jesus will defeat evil, injustice, and other forms of death, not with the military might of kings but with the new life of the resurrection. But this will come later. For now, Jesus is celebrated by a crowd whose enthusiasm is difficult to stomach, given that they will soon participate just as passionately in the spectacle created by his torture and death.

In contrast to the unnamed woman who anointed him, the disciples’ inability to comprehend or accept Jesus’ teachings about the Messiah is made painfully clear by their abandonment and denial of Jesus as pressure mounts against him. He is on his own to walk through the humiliation and torture that will lead to his death. The one who welcomed the oppressed and excluded as beloved community must face alone the consequences of his loyalty to and love for them.

Mark’s Messianic secret leads here, to Calvary. His Messiah suffers with and for us—not to glorify suffering or even to make us feel indebted for his sacrifice. Instead, Jesus’ suffering means our liberation. In God of the Oppressed, theologian James Cone writes, “the pain of the cross was God suffering for and with us so that our humanity can be liberated for freedom in the divine struggle against oppression.” That our God chose to endure the fate of the oppressed brings meaning and significance to those who still suffer, and liberates us all to join in the struggle for life against death.

April 12
“Go!”
Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; John 20:1-18

Today’s alternate reading from the gospel of Mark, 16:1-8, is believed to be Mark’s original and only account of the resurrection. His testimony of the most important event in Christian theology is sparse and seemingly incomplete: Finding an open tomb, the frightened women are more terrified when “a young man, dressed in a white robe” commands them to “go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee” (Mark 16:7). The final line is ambiguous: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”

Mark’s minimalist ending is emblematic of his approach to discipleship, both then and now. Absent are the easy formulas; we are left with mystery and questions, both of which put the ball in our court. In On Your Mark: Reading Mark in the Shadow of the Cross, Megan McKenna argues that it is all we need—the young man’s command to “go” is also ours: “Go! Walk your way through your fear, and become the community of believers, the body of Christ in the world, calling others to hope and to new life in Christ.” As such, Mark’s ending is actually a beginning—our beginning.

For Paul, there was no question that Jesus was truly raised in spirit and body—the risen Christ’s appearance to him was all the proof he needed. Even more persuasive was that Jesus chose him, “the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Paul’s experience inspired not doubt, but conversion. The one who persecuted became the ambassador through whose testimony and passion we too “have come to believe.” Armed with Mark’s invitation and Paul’s confidence, we too have all we need to be the witnesses of the risen Christ in the world.

April 19
“Reach Out”
Acts 4:32-35; Psalm 133; 1 John 1:1 - 2:2; John 20:19-31

The joy of the resurrection is, understandably, mixed with paralyzing fear, and the gospel of John portrays the ongoing struggle among Jesus’ followers to understand exactly what happened and what it meant for this community of believers. Doubt, confusion, and disbelief raised more questions than answers, which is why John focuses on the physical details of Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus was not a disembodied spirit floating among them, but a tangible being whose wounds were still present: “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe” (John 20:27). Without believing in the resurrection, the disciples could not live it, and if they could not live the resurrection, neither could they “reach out” and bear the new life of Christ to the world.

But they did believe. In the following months, the community’s faith in the resurrection was so strong that, in Acts, Luke testifies that it bore the truest mark of the new reign of God, for “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32). To be Christian was to participate in a unique community in which all were of “one heart and soul,” sharing both social and material equality.

Theologian María Pilar Aquino insists that the liberation brought by Christ’s resurrection destroys other dichotomies, too—especially those involving human relationships: “Jesus’ liberation does not support a split between the personal and the social, the private and the public, the transcendent and the historical, men and women, above and below,” she writes in Our Cry for Life. The liberation wrought from the resurrection means that we who believe in it are called to “reach out” and touch the wounds of Jesus in the world. There we must repair inequalities in every aspect of human relationships, building community and healing where oppression and exclusion exist—despite the way of the cross that awaits us and because of the resurrection that we believe in.

April 26
The Bringers of Good News
Acts 3:12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3:1-7; Luke 24:36-48

This week, it is Luke’s turn to describe Jesus’ followers after the resurrection. His gospel portrays Peter and the other disciples in such a state of terror that Jesus greets them with both peace and admonishment: “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” After eating with them to emphasize his physical humanity, Jesus is compelled to open their minds to understand the scriptures, for “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,” and they are now the bringers of the good news of God’s reign (Luke 24:45-47).

By Acts, Luke shows that Peter is truly transformed. Gone is the paralyzing fear and doubt; Peter himself testifies that “by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health” (Acts 3:16). Peter’s faith is no longer a private matter, but a public obligation, compelling him to act for the sake of the gospel. Christ’s resurrection moves all disciples (including us) from learners to teachers and leaders, and from discernment to action.

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