March 25, 2018

(Too) Direct Answers

Passage: Mark 14:12-20
Service Type:

Bible Text: Mark 14:12-20 | Preacher: Stephanie Haskins | Finally—finally Jesus gives a straight answer.  Finally!  Finally it has happened, that when someone asks Jesus a question, he actually answers it!  That when he is asked a direct question, Jesus doesn’t dodge it, or tell a parable instead, or do his favorite thing, which is to answer a question with another question—no, sir.  Not this time!  This time he finally gives a direct answer to a direct question.  Out of the 307 questions[1] he is asked in the four gospels, Jesus answers about eight of them.  And this is one of the eight questions that Jesus answers.  But this is what I want to know.  What I want to know is why it had to be this one.
Let me set the scene for you.  This is Mark’s gospel, which means there’s no parade here.  There’s no Jesus who rides into Jerusalem on a donkey or a colt.  No one has any palm leaves to wave, there are certainly no hosannas and I’m sad to say, no children to cheer him on.  There’s just this.  There’s just a plan that Jesus asks his disciples to carry out, in order to make preparations for the Passover, the biggest religious festival of the year.  He tells the disciples to go into the city (by that he means Jerusalem) for the Passover.  Passover means that people are streaming into the city from all over the countryside, packing the roads and the motels, buying roasted nuts for eating and young lambs to make their yearly temple sacrifice, while beggars beg on the streets and the money-changers throng the temple courtyards.  Passover in Jerusalem means pandemonium.  Passover means barely controlled chaos, so it must be a relief to the disciples that Jesus magically takes care of their Seder meal preparations.  “Go see a guy in Jerusalem” is essentially what it amounts to.  Okay, Jesus.  It seems like you have this thing well in hand…
But preparations are one thing.  But the meal is another thing altogether.  The twelve disciples sit down with Jesus for their Passover meal and they begin to eat.  But this night is not like any other night.  This night is different.  Because while they are eating, Jesus interrupts the meal to say this: that someone at the table will betray him.  It reminds me of the moment in a murder mystery when the detective has all the suspects gathered together in the drawing room and she makes an announcement: “The murderer is in this room.”  This is that moment.  The murderer is in this room.  The betrayer is sitting right next to you, breaking bread with you.  The disciples cringe at this, as any of us would.  And they say, as we would say, “Surely, not I?”  And there it is, the question.  The very, very direct question.  And are you ready for it?  Are you ready for one of the eight questions that Jesus actually answered?  Because it’s right here.  Jesus says: “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the bowl with me.” 
Of all the questions Jesus could have answered, he chose this one.  Talk about direct answers.  The murderer is in this room.  Look, the betrayer is among us, as we sit here at the table, pretending that everything is just fine.  Surely, not I, Lord?  Surely not.  But Jesus indicates there’s nothing sure about this.  He considers their confidence, notices their obliviousness and their attachment to their self-interested self-delusions, and he has to do it.  Jesus has to turn the mirror back toward his friends, to his beloved disciples.  And do you think the disciples like what they see when he does it?  I don’t think so.  Jesus, can you please go back to not answering our questions?  We liked it better when we didn’t know what you were talking about.
Why would Jesus give such a direct answer?  And even his answer is not as direct as it could be.  He doesn’t name Judas as the betrayer when he could.  He knows who it is.  He could say, if he wanted to.  But he doesn’t.  So it’s a puzzle.  Remember: this is Jesus we’re talking about, Jesus who answers virtually no questions directly.  So why does he answer this one?
Let’s go back to the idea of a mirror.  Last week, many of you heard Jess Bierling speak about her experience as a transgender woman.  I found what she said tremendous and inspiring.  If you missed it, the video is on our Facebook page.  If you were there, it’s worth looking at again.  Afterwards, both Jess and her former partner Cat took the time to tell me what it felt like to be here.  They felt heard, seen, and valued by you, by this church.  You were a mirror to them.  Reflected in you and by you, they felt God’s goodness, grace, and kindness.  What a gift to be that kind of mirror.  That’s the one of the best things we get to do as a church.
But there are other mirrors, too, the mirrors that reveal things that we don’t want to see.  Our partners, husbands, wives, children, friends, co-workers and even sometimes other drivers on the road can be quite skilled in mirroring back to us true things about us that we don’t like to see.  As they hold up those mirrors, we see in the reflection our impatience, our need for control, our need to be right; we see our mistakes, our favorite delusions, our poor self-image, our hatred for our bodies and neglect for the body of the earth.  Sometimes these mirrors are small and subtle, giving us tiny little taps on the shoulder.  And sometimes the mirrors are anything but subtle; sometimes the mirror we get is a big old flashing neon sign.
Jesus is in Jerusalem.  And it’s Passover.  And Judas has already arranged to sell Jesus out for a few gold coins.  The place is crowded, the atmosphere is tense.  The religious leaders are on orange alert; the Romans are poised to make an example out of anyone.  The time for gentle taps on the shoulder is over.  The disciples have missed the signs, the subtle cues that Jesus is going into Jerusalem, but he’s not coming out.  “Surely not?” they ask.  And Jesus chooses not to condemn them, because that’s not how God works.  God doesn’t condemn us; no matter who we are, no matter what we’ve done.  God doesn’t condemn us.  But neither does God let us dwell in lies, no matter how comforting.  Because God wants nothing to stand between us and God.  Nothing.  So Jesus does this.  He answers a direct question with a direct answer.  Finally!  It took 307 questions to get here, but we’re here.  As Jesus looks around the Passover table, at his friends, knowing all that will happen this week, he chooses to tell the truth.  He chooses to hold up a mirror to their faces: not to condemn, but to reveal.  He’s not gonna lie to them.  At some moments this week, this holy week, the truth is gonna hurt.  But that’s not the only thing the truth will do.  By the end of this week, by next Sunday, in fact; the truth will set the whole world free.  Amen.     
[1] We’ve been using Martin Copenhaver’s book as a guide for this Lenten series: Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 2014).

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