My wife’s colleague, Mark, preached on atonement this past Sunday, and he gave a great survey of the theories scholars and theologians have held about the meaning of Jesus’ death and its relation to our forgiveness. The bottom line of all these theories – “Why did Jesus have to die?”
You have heard it said we live in a disrespectful age. It hasn’t been that long since we ooh-ed and ah-ed over Derek Jeter’s little nephew tipping his cap. Just a few years later, we pile on in our judgments about how Jeter has gutted the Miami Marlins and disrespected their established players, now scattered to the other three corners of Major League Baseball.
(I am not confusing Derek Jeter with Jesus, so don’t get worried.)
Yet I say unto you, the human propensity to lionize and then condemn is nothing new. Why did Jesus have to die? Because his power and his goodness were in divine proportion and therefore unbearable to people who based their power on earthly conditions. It’s my 2 cents worth that our redemption lies in God’s continuing love for us despite humanity’s collective drive to destroy what is good, or look the other way while someone else is doing it.
Jesus tells a parable at the beginning of chapter 12, probably to the same group of religious leaders he had been talking to at the end of chapter 11. It’s Tuesday of Holy Week, and Jesus has come into Jerusalem from Bethany for a third time. He tells of a landowner and a vineyard and workers who kill the servants he sends to them with messages.
Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard. (Mark 12:6-8, CEB)
Why did Jesus have to die? Because humanity could not, would not respect God in our midst.
And I love how he told that story to the very people who had in mind to kill him. I love how instead of saying, “You know, this has gone on long enough, God loves people, people are terrible, and there’s no point going through this,” he instead looks them in the eye and tells them with his seriousness that he knows what is going to happen, like a batter who knows he’s about to be hit by a pitch and is ready to take it.
In this disrespectful world, in any age, people of faith are called on to do the same, to stand in, and show how ready we are for whatever is coming.
Dear Jesus, give me a little of what you showed them that day when its my turn to stand in, when I need to put some respect on your name.
I’m reading and blogging about Mark for Lent and using the Common English Bible because it messes with my expectations of familiar passages. I also sometimes refer to NRSV-based resources including The Jewish Annotated New Testament, and the New Interpreter’s Study Bible, as well as the online Greek interlinear Bible.