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The not-so-dangerous question….

October 21, 2018

Image from Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org. http://www.freebibleimages.org/

A reflection for the 29th Sunday, Ordinary Time, Year B. The readings are Isaiah 53:10-11; Psalm 33; Hebrews 4:14-16 and Mark 10:35-45.

Last week I asked myself the most dangerous question. Our pastor preached about this and recommended that we ask ourselves this question during the week: “God, what do you want me to do?” On Wednesday I asked myself another question; maybe the second most dangerous question: Is it sin to smoke marijuana?* which is what I think James and John must’ve been smoking when they asked, not the most dangerous question, but the dumbest question! What were they thinking and how old are they? The last time my kids asked me to say yes to whatever they were going to ask me was like in grade two!

That’s why I love the Gospel of Mark. Why does he write these things? Why does he continually make the disciples look like complete clowns? Seriously! Literally, the sentence before James and John approach Jesus to ask him if they could sit at his left and right in Heaven, Jesus has been telling them how the Son of Man will be betrayed, arrested and condemned. He will be mocked and spat on, flogged and killed (Mark 10:32-34). Two seconds later, they ask their question. If you wanted to attract people to Christianity, why would you portray the disciples like that? Probably because it really happened. And this whole “suffering and death; drink the cup that I am going to drink” business? How is that going to attract people to Christianity?

Mark writes it because it’s true. It’s true because it actually happened and it’s true because it’s Truth: If we follow Jesus Christ, that will lead us to the Cross; we will probably suffer.

But that suffering will be redemptive.

In the first reading we hear about the Suffering Servant. This is a section from the Prophet Isaiah that we hear a lot during Lent (Isaiah 42 – 53). Today we heard just two verses. In it, Isaiah says that “through his suffering, my servant shall justify many”. That means that through his suffering he shall redeem many. That word “redemption” in the time of Isaiah had to do with paying a ransom to free someone. In those days if you owed a debt, you could be taken as a slave until you paid your debt. But someone else could come to pay your debt in order to free you. They could even take your place. That person would be your “redeemer”. And that is why Jesus says at the end of the Gospel that he came to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus has to suffer and die because He takes our place so that we don’t have to suffer and die.  We can’t pay the debt. That’s why it’s through his suffering that we are redeemed. Jesus is our redeemer.

We are called to do the same for others.

But I don’t think that it has to be suffering. God doesn’t want us to suffer – when Jesus asks James and John whether they are prepared to drink the cup that He drinks or be baptized with the baptism that He is baptized, He doesn’t say to them that this means they have to suffer and die. Instead He explains it by saying that if anyone wishes to be great they have to be a servant and that He came to serve and not to be served. That’s what makes it redemptive. Not that we suffer, but that we give our life to others in service.

But sometimes that does lead to suffering.

I can think that there are maybe two kinds of suffering. You can have two different people that are suffering for the same reason, because of injustice or oppression; because of disease or whatever hardship. One of them just suffers and complains about it. That suffering has no meaning. The other one suffers and is grateful. She also recognizes that there are others who suffer more than she does. She accepts her suffering. We can say that she suffers out of love or suffers in love. All of us know what it means to suffer out of love. That suffering has meaning. That suffering becomes sacrifice. That suffering becomes redemptive. That’s why Jesus’ suffering saves us. Because He suffers for us, out of love. He says that we have to pick up our Cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24-26 and Luke 9:23). Any old suffering is not a Cross. It’s not a Cross if it doesn’t lead us to Jesus.

And when we suffer out of love, we don’t even call it suffering, do we? We just call it love.

And that brings me back to the most dangerous question. Last week our pastor told us that it’s dangerous to ask God what He wants of us: “God, what do you want me to do?” That’s actually the question Jesus asks James and John, “what do you want me to do for you?”

We are scared to ask the dangerous question (and we don’t ask the dumb question) because we think that God is going to tell us to do something we don’t want to do; and He’s going to answer what Jesus answered James and John; that we have to drink of the cup that He drinks. That we have to suffer. But that’s not what Jesus wants of us.

Instead He wants us to serve. That’s not that dangerous.

Which is why I think that we should ask that “not-so” dangerous question to God every day: “Lord, what do you want me to do… today?” Where do you want me to serve today? I may have plans for today; I have to go to work and pick up the kids from school and go grocery shopping and make dinner; but in the midst of all that, where do you want me to be? Who do you want me to speak with? What do you want me to do? If we pray that, every morning, we will find ourselves feeling more free – and we will find incredible opportunities to help others. It’s not quite like in that new show “God Friended Me” where God friends this guy on social media and then sends him friend suggestions and those are the people that he ends up helping. Not quite, but it is kind of like that.

Today is the third Sunday in October, also called World Mission Sunday. It’s a day to celebrate and remember the hundreds of thousands of men and women around the world who ask that question, “what do you want me to do today?” everyday. We don’t have to go to Africa, Asia or Latin America to be a missionary – we can be one right here at home, in our families, our places of work, our schools, our neighbourhoods – just by being open to the opportunities that God gives us to serve each other – to give our lives for each other. To help Jesus in His work of redemption.

Let’s start today. Ask Jesus to bring you into his redemption team. Ask him to tell you where He wants you to help today. And then ask him that same question every day.

If you do that, you will placing your trust in God and his love will be upon you (Psalm 33). You may suffer a bit and you will have crosses to carry. You may not end up sitting next to Jesus when He comes into His Glory, but I guarantee you that you will be there with him.

*Wednesday was October 17, 2018, the day of the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

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