Archive for August, 2012

Friday, August 3rd. Mark 14:66-72

August 3, 2012

While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.  Mark 14:66-72


Who among us has not been there?


Who among us, seemingly firm in our faith and our convictions, has not wilted when given opportunity to “stand up, stand up, for Jesus”?  Who among us, when caught between “what would God think?” and “what would the neighbors think?” hasn’t done the math and quickly tallied that God is far more forgiving than our neighbors.  After all, we still have to live with those people….so we wilt.


Peter followed Jesus to the courtyard.  He was right there among the soldiers.  As long as he kept quiet he was safe.  Maybe he heard the muffled roars, the jeers and catcalls, maybe even the sickening snap of a whip or the thud of a fist.  We can feel the flush of Peter’s face, the churning of his stomach, the lead weight of his feet settling hard upon his soul.


You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.”


That was all it took.  The soft voice of a servant girl.  Just that – to draw attention to Peter, to make his presence public.  That was his chance to stand up for his Lord.  To keep his promise to follow unto death.  The oath that HE would NEVER deny Jesus.


The comedian, Ron White, telling the story of being arrested said, “They gave me the right to remain silent but they didn’t give me the ability.”


Peter didn’t remain silent.  He spoke up.  First quietly, then defiantly, he denied knowing Jesus.  All it took was fear.


So the story goes.  From here on out the disciples will watch from a distance.  They will watch their dreams die.  Their hopes fade.  Fear will take over and win the day.  There will be, for them and for us, only one hope left.


Let us pray:  Gracious Lord, we confess we have sinned against you by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.   We have not spoken up in the face of evil and injustice.  We have quietly taken more than our fair share.  We have worried more about what the neighbors would think about us than who you call us to be and what you call us to do.  You are innocent, we, guilty as charged.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.


Thursday, August 2nd. Mark 14:53-65

August 2, 2012

They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’” But even on this point their testimony did not agree.


Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?” But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus said, “I am; and ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power,’ and ‘coming with the clouds of heaven.’”


Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?” All of them condemned him as deserving death. Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, “Prophesy!” The guards also took him over and beat him. Mark 14:53-65


The legal guidelines of the Old Testament could not be more clear. Deuteronomy 17:6 is crystal clear: “On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness.” as is Deuteronomy 19:15, “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.” 


Thus, ALL of the people who should have rightly known better, as Mark tells us that the high priest were joined by ALL the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes, were wrong.  Their power, authority, education, standing, experience – everything that they had going for them – was flushed for the sake of a mock trial intent on doing nothing but trumping up charges to remove a troublemaker.


THEY, not Jesus, were the ones on trial.  And soon Peter would join them.


My whole life I have been taught that Jesus “died” for my sins as if what happened there was Jesus carefully orchestrating an act of theological suicide in order to appease a God thirsty for the same kind of blood vengeance against sin that Jesus’ captors demanded of him.  But now I see things differently.


Now I read this story and I see it for what it is.  Jesus was unjustly murdered and that by the key power structures of religion, government, and an unthinking crowd driven only by the same dynamic that picks on kids who are “different”, that slows down traffic to gawk at accidents, that produces movies and games that glorify violence, that resents the “poor” because they get what they don’t “deserve”, or resents the “rich” because they do.  It is our idolatry, our greed, our jealousy, our willingness to turn a blind eye to the abuse of power and privilege; THIS is what drives Jesus to the cross.


It isn’t pretty.  It isn’t right.  It is called “sin” and it is the universal plague into which we have all been born.  No one is righteous, no not one.


Except for Jesus.  The one who fed the hungry, healed the sick, sat at table with surprising guests lists, and called us to do things (like loving our enemies rather than killing them) which make us very very uncomfortable.  And yet truly his is the only path to a better world.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, it is hard to watch this play out.  To imagine your arrest.  To imagine you beaten and humiliated and standing before a crowd that is telling lies about you.  And yet we know that this happens again and again.  People abuse power far too often.  The innocent are beaten, often simply for the courage to stand up against unjust authority.  We know this is the sin of the world which you took upon your shoulders.  May watching you fill us with fresh resolve to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk more humbly in our lives.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 1st. Mark 14:43-52

August 1, 2012

Immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.


But one of those who stood near drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his ear. Then Jesus said to them, “Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest me as though I were a bandit? Day after day I was with you in the temple teaching, and you did not arrest me. But let the scriptures be fulfilled.” All of them deserted him and fled.  A certain young man was following him, wearing nothing but a linen cloth. They caught hold of him, but he left the linen cloth and ran off naked. Mark 14:43-52


Now comes the arrest.  Led by Judas, a crowd arrives with swords and clubs.  The kiss of betrayal, the feeble attempt to protect Jesus.  Jesus being led away while those who followed him fled.  We’ve seen this before.


I know how we usually read this arrest scene.  We focus on “let the scriptures be fulfilled” and move on to the rest of the story.  Perhaps we can learn something new from it if we slow down and look at it again.


We’ve seen such scenes before.  The chief priests, scribes, and elders are all good men.  People love them.  They have positions of honor and authority.  They aren’t evil but they, in falsely arresting Jesus with intent to do him in, are doing a very evil thing.


We’ve seen this before.  We saw it in lynch mobs stringing up a black kid for looking at a white woman.  We saw it in all of those old Westerns when the posse was sent out, not always after the guilty.  We have seen it it movie after movie, from “To Kill a Mockingbird” to “Beauty and the Beast.”  We might even have done this when beating up another kid on a schoolyard.  The “crowd effect” can be a powerful force for evil in our world.


Phillip Zimbardo wrote a book in 2007 called “The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil.”  On his website ( he writes:  “I offer a psychological account of how ordinary people sometimes turn evil and commit unspeakable acts. As part of this account, The Lucifer Effect tells, for the first time, the full story behind the Stanford Prison Experiment, a now-classic study I conducted in 1971. In that study, normal college students were randomly assigned to play the role of guard or inmate for two weeks in a simulated prison, yet the guards quickly became so brutal that the experiment had to be shut down after only six days.”


“How and why did this transformation take place, and what does it tell us about recent events such as the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in Iraq? Equally important, what does it say about the ‘nature of human nature,’ and what does it suggest about effective ways to prevent such abuses in the future?”


I think he is on to something important here.  Yes, Jesus was arrested by an angry crowd intent on doing him in.  Yes, this is clearly connected to his mission and his willingness to love us to the end.  And yes, his friends deserted him.  Yes, all of that is there.


But so is the reality that the “crowd effect” can lead us to unspeakable horrors, to doing and saying things that we would never otherwise do or say.  But that same “crowd effect” can also lead us to do good.


We would do well to learn what makes the difference.


Let us pray:  Dear Lord, for us you were arrested.  For us you were taken away.  For us.  We listen to the accounts of your friends betraying and deserting you.  We know we want to do better.  Help us tell the difference.  Grant us the faith which silences our fears.  In Jesus’ name.  Amen.