Reflection by Victoria L. Garvey
On the surface, forgiveness is not much in evidence in either Mark’s palm story or his passion narrative; it’s much more at home in the Lucan version. Mark, for instance, has no time for such niceties as Jesus’ plea from the cross, “Father forgive them …” (Luke 23:34). We readers/over-hearers, however, are invited into thoughtful and sometimes disturbing contemplation about forgiveness. Not WWJD?, but who are we really and what would we have done had these events transpired in our neighborhood?
Generally, the congregation gets to play the part of “the crowd” during the liturgy of the passion these days, a role with which we’re mightily uncomfortable. We’d never have behaved that way. No, not us loyal latter-day disciples! But that first-century “crowd” shows up several times earlier in Jesus’ ministry. On those occasions, they’re always either drawn to him out of interested curiosity or enthusiastically on his side (33 times prior to Gethsemane in chapter 14). Only after Jesus’ arrest does the tide turn, and the “crowd” moves from support to condemnation because they listened to loud voices muttering fake news, because they were afraid to be counted among the risk-takers, because they feared losing hold of their own tenuous grasp of what was deemed acceptable behavior by their contemporaries.
Over and over, we are reminded that even those closest to Jesus during his ministry are capable of turning way, of betrayal and cowardice. And not just the bit part-ers—the crowd—but also Peter and Judas and the others, including the anonymous disciple who ran away half naked (Mark 14:51-52). For them, we have little sympathy and no prodigal forgiveness. How could they abandon one who’d loved them so freely, taught them so much, invited them to be co-creators with him of a new age in the realm of God?
We embrace our self-righteous non-forgiveness, however, at our peril. I cringe when I think of the times I haven’t had the courage to stand against injustice, when I’ve stayed safely hidden in the crowd, afraid to rally to the support of others who are being unjustly treated or condemned or dismissed as less than worthy. Our pesky Baptismal vows and the life and modeling of Jesus himself, however, call me back, remind me of the need for my own forgiveness and to get on with this Christian life I have promised to live.
After all, as the Book of Acts and 2,000 years of history teach me, those early betrayers were forgiven their folly, finally and energetically emerging as the founders of the Jesus movement, proclaiming the Gospel to the ends of the earth, doing the works of God and forming new disciples. How about us?
Follow along with us this Lent season with our daily devotional and engage in discussion in our closed facebook group moderated by The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner & The Rev. Jan Kwiatowski.
In this group, participants will have a chance to share their responses to the prompts in the daily readings, and also the chance to receive additional material for reflection.