You see, I keep wishing that Jesus will come and take away all my troubles as if he were one of those great designer drugs they advertise on TV. You know the ones I mean, right? The ones where everyone is happily riding bikes or rowing boats or hiking mountain trails while the announcer reads off all the possible side effects. These ads are supposed to tell you that prescription drugs are serious things and that only your doctor knows best. But my eyes and my emotions tell me I want to ride my bike on the mountain trail.
I like my Savior the same way. I hear all the things about taking up my cross and following. But what I really want is for God to fix everything. There is a big part of me that wants a savior who will solve all my problems so life would not be so hard.
Oops. Wrong savior!
If you have ever suffered from wrong-savior syndrome, you are not alone. We hear in today’s Gospel about Peter having the exact same problem. Even though he has correctly confessed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, he cannot bear to hear the truth that this same Jesus, this same Messiah, would have to be arrested, handed over to his persecutors, tortured, killed and then on the third day rise from the dead.
It is too much for Peter to bear. He can’t take it in. His only response: "God forbid!"
You see he wanted Jesus to be all-victorious. The most powerful guy on the block, if not the world. He wanted Jesus to bring down the wrath of God. This is a classic case of wrong savior syndrome if ever there was one.
Just look at where Jesus has taken his disciples. He has taken then to a Roman garrison city called Caesarea Philippi. A fortress town that the Romans built that would be a sign of Roman power, a garrison from which their troops could march, and a place where Roman gods could be worshipped out of sight of the local religionists. Jesus takes his followers to a symbol of Roman power to confess him as messiah, and then he starts talking about what following him is like. What is following Jesus like? It is like carrying your own cross. Really? You know when people carried crosses, right? On the way to their own execution!
Here is Jesus talking about who he is—the Messiah—in the middle of an outpost of the Roman Empire and he immediately starts talking about the Romans #1 way of keeping people in line: crucifixion!
For those of us prone to wrong-savior syndrome, Jesus connects the dots so plainly and directly that it is like a slap in the face:
You see, here is the way to keep from getting our saviors mixed up. Instead of Jesus taking away all my problems, he wants us to have the strength, the grace and the courage to take on our problems—to carry our cross. I want a way out of my troubles. Jesus offers us a way through all of life—the hard stuff and the good stuff.
Following Jesus makes a difference because he makes the hard life of faithfulness possible and less lonely. Jesus blazes the trail for us to follow. He creates a truly human life possible, lived under the mercy of God, blood, tears, death, and all.
We want life to be easy. The trouble is that it is really only the hard things in this life that end up telling us who we are. The hard things in life tell us what we are made of. They tell us what really matters. It is only the struggles we work through, successfully or not, that teach us the limits and the grandeur of being human. It is only the acceptance of suffering as a necessary part of the human condition that draws together and unites us as one in our fragile, bodily, humble reality. It is only in confronting our death and placing our lives wholly in the fatherly arms, the motherly embrace of God, that we can finally and truly live.
When Jesus tells us that Christians will be persecuted and that we will be called on to show off or talk about our faith in front of hostile audiences, he is telling us to hang in and to trust God. He is saying that we will get the strength to confess Jesus when the chips are down because we have already immersed ourselves in a life of prayer, steeped in scripture, nourished by the sacrament and surrounded by Christian community. He reminds us that we will confidently and boldly confess Jesus when the chips are down because we did not ignore him when things were easy.
But when we decide to let Jesus’ cross take away our own then we give into wrong savior syndrome. The real savior calls us into the hard work of a life of purpose, sacrifice, and loving others. Jesus, the real savior, gives us back our lives. He saves us from meaningless days and years of having nothing to do. He saves us from going through life as if we are just ticking off check boxes of things we have to do. He opens our eyes so that when we see injustice and cruelty in the world we can say, “Yeah, I guess if I don’t do something, no one else will.” He touches our hearts and minds so that can choose to live in honest dialogue with all kinds of people. He gives us the strength to be vulnerable enough to pray with people who differ and even disagree with us.
You see, Jesus’ cross help us carry our cross. When we choose to be open and honest about our faith in a way that tells the truth without being obnoxious, then we discover what is means to not only carry our cross but also how to follow Jesus.
I still get my saviors mixed up. It happens whenever I am tired or overworked or feeling pressed upon by a world changing faster than I can handle. Then I go for the fake savior…the one who will knock heads and take names, the one who agrees with all my opinions, the one who judges everyone else but not me.
And when I don’t want to look at the deep truth of human sin, or when I am feeling really risk averse, then I go for the squishy savior. I will be attracted to his love but not accept the challenge of the cross…the challenge to change.
But when we go back to our baptisms, when we go back to the broken bread and poured out wine of the Sacrament, when we go back to our Christian companions, when we go back and confess Jesus as messiah and savior and, without shame or fear, and orient our lives towards him, then we discover that God has given us in Christ everything we need to follow him. And here’s the best part, even though we are prone to wrong savior syndrome, Jesus, the real savior has never, ever forgotten us.
Second Sunday in Lent B, Mark 8:31-38- March 4, 2012