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Text: Mark 8 : 31 – 38
“Hate is not the opposite of love . . . fear is.”
It seems like a good quote. Something you could cross-stitch and then put up on your wall. At least I would; I don’t know how you folks decorate. I don’t know where the phrase comes from; Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel said that the opposite of love is not hate but indifference, but that means something slightly different and he said that out of his experience as a holocaust survivor, where a great many people were apathetic to what was going on.
“He said this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.” “Jesus, what are you doing? All this talk of death isn’t going to get us any more followers; it’s going to scare people away! We’re trying to build a movement here and you go around saying that following you might get us all killed!”
If Jesus wanted to “grow a movement,” have a million followers, rake in the donations, he would not be preaching about loving your enemies. If Jesus wanted to grow a movement, he would not be telling people to give everything they have to the poor. He would be telling them some feel-good pop psych nonsense about thinking positive, something “spiritually uplifting,” and something which, above all, tells rich people that it’s okay to be rich. You know, prosperity theology, which says that God rewards those who are faithful, or on the other hand something closer to modern spiritual gurus like Deepak Chopra, something that never challenges us in our comfortable complacency. Certainly never something that would get us killed for following it.
But instead he talks about the opposition he will face, because any time there is a movement for justice, people hate it. Jesus is creating a community of the outcasts, he is speaking up on behalf of those who are “sinners” in the eyes of the authorities and saying that they will be first in line for the kingdom of heaven.
Now, people will be okay if you talk about opposition and hardship, they won’t get scared of that, but only if you frame it with some Winston Churchill “We will fight them on the beaches . . . we will never surrender” stuff about overcoming and conquering, some hyper-masculine war language to make people feel like they’ll be heroes if they sign up for your cause. Make them feel strong and powerful for joining your side. And Jesus doesn’t do that. Instead he just talks about death and suffering and carrying crosses.
Our core story, the Christian story, is about weakness. It is about vulnerability. Our God became a human being and was killed and died; he was not a mighty warrior or king who killed frost giants. Because our God is not a god of warriors; He is not a God of kings and rulers and of the strong; She is a God of the weak and the vulnerable. Instead of taking up arms, God stands in solidarity with the oppressed.
Peter, who would have been raised on the story of mighty liberators like Gideon, who freed Israel with an army of men so fierce and animalistic that they drank water from a stream by lapping it up like dogs rather than cupping it in their hands like humans (this story is in Judges 7, by the way, if you want to read it), Peter could not understand this. He might have expected the Messiah to be like that, to raise an army and overthrow the Romans. But instead the Messiah is like Jesus.
You know, every so often someone comes along who wants to make Christianity “manly,” for lack of a better word, in a way that I don’t necessarily agree with and with an image of masculinity that I don’t think men have to follow to be considered “masculine.” There’s a picture going around, a painting of an extremely muscular Jesus just breaking the cross by flexing his biceps, and it’s the most ridiculous thing to me. The Jesus in the story accepted the cross, told his followers to accept it. If he were alive today, I like to think that if Jesus were in high school in an 80s or 90s teen movie, the kind I grew up on, he would be bullied for “being girly” or “being gay,” and he is neither of those things, he just offers a vision of humanity—male or female, because we are one in Christ Jesus—that we might not be prepared to accept.
Peter is afraid, and fear keeps us from love and justice. It keeps us from loving and standing with the oppressed and marginalized, not just because of our fear of them, but because of our fear of which will happen to us if we do stand with them. Civil rights leaders get assassinated; when you show up to a Black Lives Matter protest, there might be someone there with a gun, the way there was in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Before I came out, when I tried to speak up for LGBTQ+ rights, there would always be someone saying, “Why do you care? What are you, gay?” And I wonder how many straight potential allies have been quiet because of the social risk, because of the fear of losing a friend or family member when they confront them.
The cost of discipleship is our attachment to strength and security. We have to give that up if we are willing to follow Jesus. We have to give up social privilege and safety, economic and financial safety, spiritual safety, physical safety, emotional safety. Our commitment to these things is, as Jesus says, “Setting our mind on human things and not on divine things.” I can tell you, from an LGBTQ+ perspective, an ally is not just someone who doesn’t hate; an ally is someone who risks something by standing with us.
So it is the same for loving your neighbour, completely the way Jesus did. God’s grace is not cheap; it is freely given, but it cannot be truly accepted without commitment. Jesus said to Peter, “follow me,” but Peter does not get to follow without, you know . . . actually following, without actually going where Jesus goes.
The way to resurrection only goes through the cross. There is no other way. For those who have experienced grief and suffering in their lives—people with trauma, marginalized communities, people in poverty—it is time for them to experience the empty tomb and the risen Christ. For those of us who have lived lives of comfort, we need to draw nearer to the cross and the crucified Christ, to stand with those who have been put there against their will by the powers of oppression and violence. Only then can we truly love our neighbour; the opposite of love isn’t hate but fear.
Peter objects, knowing that Jesus’ words will turn away people who do not want to give up their comfort. But the purpose of the Jesus movement, the community that persists to this day, is not to have a million followers; we are here not to grow in numbers or in cash, but in faith. If that message only resonates with one person and turns away all others, I will preach it.
The cost of discipleship is the cross. The cost of love is grief. But the grace we receive is worth more than any treasure we might have. Amen.