Mark 15:22-32 (NRSV)
Mark’s stark version of the crucifixion is the lesson at Evensong today. There’s a lot of controversy about what Atonement means -nothing at all new there – but if it means nothing much than an ethical program, we don’t seem to offer much in Christ to the proposing young terrorist, to whom life-giving in the context of killing others, is the gateway to heaven and the services of heavenly prostitutes.
If we, in a fit of enormous charity, suggest that in all important matters, all religions say the same thing, are we selling short our own Gospel and its power to transform whole individuals? If we merely suggest an ethical program of self-denial, and suggest parallels in other Sacred Writings, are we not merely tarted up Pelagians? Mind you Pelagius was a severe old Brit, so perhaps we aren’t even Pelagians.
Does not the Gospel propose to those whose behaviors threaten themselves and worst still others “the power of God unto salvation,” a restorative and forgiving process achieved by a daily application of infused love by the merits and death of Jesus? Jesus really said nothing new. What he did was new and because it was to most people obscene, a scandal, it remains an enormous and staggering proposal. It is obscene to willingly die for others when one has the power to save oneself, even to propose another less painful and ethical way pehaps to save others. After all what of Jesus’ responsibility to his mother, brethren and friends? What of leaving a new Movement in the hands of incompetants -thus apostolic succession! Yet he surrenders to corrupt clergy and politicians and dies, wherefore He is now highly exalted, to whom every knee shall bow.
Moral and ethical proposals are vital, but to offer them as a substitute for wrong-headed self-sacrifice seems daft. The terrorist has a supporting community and believes he or she has God’s blessing and so sets a bomb off in a market. Because Jesus died and rose again, we have a supporting community, living and dead, the Church and are assured of daily Grace and Forgiveness because Jesus allowed himself to be killed on a hill far away. That’s the Gospel. To give one’s life to such a saviour is perhaps still an extraordinary proposal particularly if by so doing we may also “save” others in the market place.
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