We find ourselves at the very midpoint of Lent, bracing ourselves to enter more fully into the passion of Jesus prior to the rejoicing of Easter. Without the darkness and sense of painful futility, the brightness of resurrection holds little significance. Jesus is beckoning us to “watch with him,” which is the chief discipline of Lent.
The Gospels elongate the passion narrative as they ratchet up the confrontation between Jesus and temple authorities. Conflict escalates as Jesus challenges the leaders about who is really faithful to the traditions of Abraham and Moses. Especially in John’s Gospel, Jesus claims to bring to fruition all that had gone before him as Word has become flesh. This direct challenge ultimately leads to arrest, trial, and death by crucifixion. While ultimately he submits to what he believes his sacrificial mission entails, he has been deliberately provocative throughout his ministry—far from the docile portrait many assume.
Before we even get to the Garden of Gethsemane, we are watching Jesus reconfigure the identity of the people of God. He was always finding ways to welcome, to forgive, and to share a meal. We watch him extend healing touch; we watch him protect a vulnerable woman dragged before him; we watch him building community by providing wine for a wedding or an abundance of bread and fish for a multitude.
Although his ministry is a renewal movement internal to Israel, the implications that his message will travel far beyond the historic people of God are nascent. Whether it be the Syrophoenician woman who sought healing for her daughter, the centurion who believes his word that his son would be healed, the Greeks who wish to see him, the Samaritans who receive his message, these outsiders find their place in the messianic story of Jesus.
Entering week four of Lent offers an opportunity to live in these Gospel narratives with new insight. The Spirit is inviting us to overhear words of challenge, mercy, and struggle. Jesus’ own desolation is growing as he realizes the most likely outcome of his ministry. After all, as he taught in Jerusalem, he remembered that this was the city that “slays the prophets.” He had seen the fate of his cousin John; why would his own prospects be any different?
So, we continue to walk with him so that we might observe the intimacy of his relationship with God, his expansive love of those in need, and his willingness to be faithful to drink the cup set before him. We watch with him, even though tempted to shrink back, as did many of his followers.
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares leaders for seeking God, shaping church, and serving humanity and all creation.