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Lent: A Season of Paradox

Updated: Feb 21

“[Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples and said to them, ‘If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’” (Mark 8:34-35, NRSVue)

Sometimes, the words of Jesus are hard to understand—not because he isn’t clear in what he says—but because what he says goes against the grain of the modern mindset. The scripture above is a case in point. When Jesus states, “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it,” it offends our “winner take all” mentality. Our culture preaches self-responsibility that produces some type of reward, so to synthesize our values with our relationship with Jesus, we “spiritualize” Jesus’ words, taking away any requirement for sacrificing on our part!

Jesus intends for his word to prepare his disciples (and us!) for the supreme paradox unfolding. In the few verses before this passage, Jesus tells his followers that he is about to suffer at the hands of influential people who disagree with his message. They reject his teaching about God’s love and grace, so they will kill him to stop his message from spreading. They hope to “save” themselves and preserve their power to control others. It will appear as if they have “won;” however, three days after they kill him, he will rise from the dead to live again. This turn of events is so abhorrent to Peter that he rebukes Jesus, telling him this is not the way the story is supposed to end. Jesus countered Peter’s rebuke with a rebuke of his own,

“Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33, NRSVue)

Jesus was not saying Peter was Satan; he was acknowledging the presence of un-God-like thinking and emphasizing the source of Peter’s thoughts. This exchange reminds me of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, where he kept responding to Satan to clarify God’s role for Jesus to play in the salvation of humanity. Peter’s understanding of the story of salvation was more like Satan’s than Jesus’.

Throughout Lent, we face the paradox of “losing as winning.” For people conditioned to win, losing is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable option. We must consider that Jesus’ radical way of love and non-violence is the only way out of the messes we find ourselves in today. “Losing as winning” is a paradox that we’ll continue to observe throughout Lent. Stick with us, and hopefully, we’ll get a clearer picture and a stronger resolve to live as Jesus would have us to live.

See you on Sunday! And don’t forget to invite your friends.

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