One night last week, Mike and I watched a concert with Dudu Fisher, a wonderful Israeli singer. He was a cantor in a synagogue in Tel Aviv, and has performed in numerous musicals like Fiddler on the Roof and Les Miz. He sang songs from the Jewish liturgy, some old family favorites, and some pieces from those musicals.
Part-way through the concert Dudu told a little of his family story. During World War II, he and his parents were hidden in the crawl space under the house of a Christian family. The members of the Christian family walked miles in different directions each day to purchase food for Dudu’s family. That way, no one became suspicious that they were purchasing more than the family normally used.
This family knew that if they got caught, they would be sent to the concentration camp with Dudu and his family. They – and many like them – had the courage to take up the cross and follow Jesus. I wonder how many of us would be willing to go so far in our belief in Jesus that we would protect someone from extreme persecution.
We don’t like to contemplate such extremes. Most of us resist doing or experiencing anything that will take us out of our comfort zones. Taking up the cross usually means hanging crosses on the walls of our homes and wearing necklaces and pins.
But that’s not what Jesus meant. Jesus meant that we would be so willing to follow him that we make a difference in the community where we live because of our faith. Jesus modeled for us what he meant: he spent his life healing people; challenging the powerful people and systems that caused injustice; and in the end he gave his life for God’s purposes.
This plan of Jesus, to give his life for us all, was not what the disciples nor the Jewish leaders had in mind as a Messiah. We remember each Lent that Jesus died because he was not the military messiah, the new King David, that the people were all expecting and hoping for.
When Peter says to Jesus, “You are the Messiah!” Jesus praises his wisdom, and then says, “Shh. Don’t say anything to anyone!” And we laugh, because every time Jesus says to someone, “Don’t tell anyone,” they immediately run off and tell everyone they see.
So, why, we wonder, does Jesus want to keep his messiah-ship a secret? This is called the Messianic Secret, and it’s mostly found in the Gospel of Mark. Here’s what I think. There are two basic reasons for Jesus to not want the world to know that he is the messiah.
First, because he has his own timetable, and doesn’t want the crowd, the leaders, and the Romans to push up the timetable. For Jesus, the goal is to make it to Passover, so he can make the connection between Passover and the Last Supper, and the Lamb of God and the New Covenant. Jesus has his own plans, and if he is arrested and tried before the Passover, it will mess up all those plans.
Second, if the word gets out that he is the Messiah, people will expect a military battle and start showing up with swords and spears. They will want to start a war, and Jesus is not about starting wars. Jesus is about a totally different way of changing, renewing, and redeeming the world. If his followers start a war with the Romans, it will take matters out of Jesus’ control, and mess with his plans and timetable. Of course it needs to be a secret!
Once he was crucified and raised, he said to the puzzled disciples, “It’s no longer a secret. Go and tell everyone!” And lots and lots of people did talk about Jesus. Lots and lots of people gave up their lives to tell others about Jesus. And lots and lots of people today take up their cross and give their time, talent, and treasure to combat injustice where they find it, and where they believe they can make a difference.
There are people who take up a cross reluctantly, and discover they are called to make a difference. A missionary to Rwanda tells a story about a woman who was very angry at everyone from the other tribe; Tutsi or Hutu it doesn’t matter. People from both tribes suffered in the conflict in 1994.
The young woman’s parents and some of her siblings were murdered. She left school and raised her remaining siblings. Now that the siblings were grown, the missionary asked the woman if she would care for some orphans from the other tribe. She wasn’t sure she could, but she agreed to feed them. After a while, she allowed them to stay in her home. Eventually, she realized that children are children and she adopted them. She also started a mission in her own community to care for more children of “that” tribe. She discovered the blessings of healing for herself when she began caring for others.
The people who saved Dudu’s family could not stop the Holocaust, but they saved one family.
The woman from Rwanda could not stop the violence. She cannot take care of all the children in Rwanda, but she can take care of a few, and that makes a huge difference in many lives in her community.
We may have the opportunity to take up a cross and do something big like adopt the enemy’s orphaned children or save a Jewish family. More likely, we will take up smaller crosses and do what we can with the time, talent and financial treasure we have.
The funds we donate to the ministries of Pinelands Conference (Campus Ministry, Camping Ministry, and Developing Church ministry) will not keep the doors open or fund the entire ministry, but it does say to them that we care about them and want to help them tell Jesus’ story.
A shoebox or a quilt or a backpack of food won’t save a person’s life, but it will say to them, someone cares about you. And it says, Jesus cares about you.
A hug or a card won’t heal grief or destroy cancer, but it says to someone who is hurting that you care, and that Jesus cares about them.
This week, think about what you do for others as carrying a cross for Jesus. Is there something more you could do? Try doing it, and see if that extra cross is heavy or light because Jesus helps you carry it.
Please pray with me. Jesus, sometimes it seems like the crosses we bear are heavy. Help us to remember you are always there to help us carry them. Amen