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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before September 20, 2015

Mark 9:30-37

30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.” 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

What I Am Learning:

"But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him."

The default theology of the US offers us an explanation as to why he had to die: God can't forgive sins without a blood sacrifice.

This is nonsense.

Love of neighbor and justice in community is what God wants, sacrifice is an optional if important communal ritual act

Isaiah 1.11:

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt-offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of goats.

Isaiah 43.24:

You have not bought me sweet cane with money,
or satisfied me with the fat of your sacrifices.
But you have burdened me with your sins;
you have wearied me with your iniquities.

Amos 5

1 I hate, I despise your festivals,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt-offerings and grain-offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals
I will not look upon.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

God does not condone human or child sacrifice so how could God need even the willing human sacrifice of Jesus?

Jeremiah 7

30 For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. 31And they go on building the high place* of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Ezekiel 16

20You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. As if your whorings were not enough! 21You slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering to them. 22And in all your abominations and your whorings you did not remember the days of your youth, when you were naked and bare, flailing about in your blood.

For the People of Israel, to offer a sacrifice was a kind of sacramental act: a physical way to experience (simply put)

  1. gratitude to God for life and life's blessings
  2. to reconcile with another family
  3. a sin offering to be reconciled with God
  4. a simple prayer of the community

Usually Christians quote Leviticus 17:11 to show that God "must have blood to forgive or make atonement":

10 If anyone of the house of Israel or of the aliens who reside among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. 11For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. 12Therefore I have said to the people of Israel: No person among you shall eat blood, nor shall any alien who resides among you eat blood. 13And anyone of the people of Israel, or of the aliens who reside among them, who hunts down an animal or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth.

14 For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off. 15All persons, citizens or aliens, who eat what dies of itself or what has been torn by wild animals, shall wash their clothes, and bathe themselves in water, and be unclean until the evening; then they shall be clean. 16But if they do not wash themselves or bathe their body, they shall bear their guilt.

But this passage is really about the holiness of blood, which was seen as representing the life of all animals and humans. This passage is not about God's requirement for sacrifice before forgiveness, rather it is about the purity code which requires the blood be drained from meat before being consumed.

Animal sacrifice was to happen in the Temple or some authorized place, although before the temple it happened in other holy places. If Jesus was understood as a necessary sacrifice for sin then he should have been sacrificed on the altar in the Temple.

Deut. 12:13-14

13 Take care that you do not offer your burnt-offerings at any place you happen to see. 14But only at the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribes—there you shall offer your burnt-offerings and there you shall do everything I command you.

Lastly, God forgave, for instance, the people of Nineva without any kind of sacrifice for turning from injustice and oppression to justice and equity.

Jonah 3:6-10

6 When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: No human being or animal, no herd or flock, shall taste anything. They shall not feed, nor shall they drink water. 8Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands. 9Who knows? God may relent and change his mind; he may turn from his fierce anger, so that we do not perish.’

10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

While it is true that early Christians did use some sacrificial language to describe the meaning of his life, death and resurrection it was only one way they described him. One week soon I will work on what they meant by "sacrifice."

So why was Jesus betrayed into human hands, rejected by the elders and killed and after three days raised from the dead?

We are afraid to ask.

Jesus was living out love for himself, his neighbors, and his nation. He began a movement to restore his people to love of God, self, neighbors and the earth.

But something very powerful and menacing was in their way: the cross.

Now of course it was not just the cross, but rather a whole system of oppression, exploitation and torture imposed by the Roman Empire. This system was symbolized by the torturous execution of revolutionaries on crosses near the major cities in Israel.

The cross was an example of and a primary symbol of Roman terror.

When Jesus' people began to consider joining Jesus and his movement of love, the Roman practice of crucifying people who had spirit and resisted them, immediately appeared in their mind and dampened their will.

So Jesus, being a good and wise and insightful leader and after much prayer and reflection, that he needed to confront this primary symbol of terror. He decided to do this by fearlessly confronting the Roman Empire and their collaborators, being crucified and trusting that God would raise him from the dead - thus emptying the cross of its terror.

In this way, Jesus sought to free his people's minds from the grip of terror into the freedom of God's love and God's love through us for self and neighbor and earth.

So when Jesus sends us out, he sends us out to love self and neighbor and earth AND to look around for symbols of terror, take them on, and empty them of their oppressive power.

So the question we are afraid of is not only why Jesus went to die, but why we might do the same thing: to risk ourselves in love through public leadership in taking on symbols and systems of terror and despair and through the power of God to empty them of their power.

In the Gospel of Mark we are not only invited to see that Jesus trusts in his own resurrection after going through the cross. We are invited to trust in our own resurrection after going through our cross.

By making all of this about how Jesus solves God's problem of not being able to forgive without payment we avoid our cross.

By making all of this about Jesus solving God's problem, pastors create a context of shame and guilt and authoritarianism in Christians, who in turn shame and belittle their neighbors.

By making all of this about Jesus solving God's sin-bookkeeping problems, we avoid Jesus' call for us to empty the terror symbols of our day of their power by suffering their terror in love and God-inspired courage.

"But we do not understand what he was saying and are afraid to ask him."

Help our unbelief, Lord Jesus!