S20090308 Lent 2 B
Medieval Jewish legend preserves a story about Rabbi Asher.
At that time, hoards of barbarians, probably my ancestors, roamed Europe. They attacked caravans. Sometimes they attacked whole villages, killing the villagers and making off with their cattle and property.
One day Rabbi Asher had to make a long journey, traveling by himself. He knew it would be dangerous, but he had no choice. So he set out, taking with him only three things beyond the bare essentials. He took a rooster, a donkey, and a small oil lamp.
The rabbi took the rooster to wake him up each morning because he was a very heavy sleeper. He took the donkey because the roads were bad and he might fall, hurt himself, and need the donkey to carry him. Finally, he took the oil lamp so that he could read the Holy Word of God each night before he retired.
Late, one evening the rabbi came to a village, and hoped to stay there for the night. But the villagers were suspicious of him thinking he might be a spy for the barbarians and they drove him away. The rabbi didn't become angry. He simply said to himself, "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
And so the rabbi camped out under the stars near a stream away from the village. There he lit his lamp to read the Holy Scriptures before retiring. But the wind kept blowing out the lamp. The rabbi finally gave up trying to read and said to himself, "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
At midnight the rabbi woke with a start. He discovered that a thief had stolen his donkey. He also discovered that a wild animal had killed his rooster. The rabbi did not grow angry. He simply said to himself, "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
The next day the rabbi found that during the night a band of barbarians had attacked the village, killed the villagers, and taken their cattle and possessions. Had the rabbi stayed in the village, the barbarians would have killed him too.
The rabbi also learned that the barbarians had come to the stream looking for travelers. Had they seen him reading by his lamp or heard his rooster crow or his donkey bray, they would have killed him and taken the little he had.
The next night when the rabbi knelt to say his prayers, he looked up to heaven and said, "Lord, you know best; you always have your reasons."
That story is still told and retold by Jews. It reminds them of something we all forget.
It reminds them that they should look upon everything with the eyes of faith. It reminds them of what Rabbi Asher said: "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
What an extraordinary example of this Jesus gives us as he accepts obediently the cross to which his Father sends him. In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that he “must undergo great sufferings, and be killed.”
And to make sure we understand Jesus next tells Peter and us, “If you wish to be my follower deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.”
The greatest act of faith that we can make is to say to God, "I don't know the reason for the cross that you send me, but, I will pick it up and carry it anyway, simply because your Son, my Lord, Jesus, said I should."
Almost anyone can bear pain and sorrow if he or she can see the reason for it. But it takes people living the life of Jesus to find the love and faith to carry a cross if they can't see the reason for it. It takes people whose love and faith come from the heart of Jesus to pick up a cross and to say what Rabbi Asher said: "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
Years ago, a young man studied to be a pastor at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque. A year after his first call and ordination he was stricken by a fatal disease. Shortly before his death he wrote this to a friend: "Every so often we have showdowns in our lives by which we are challenged ... to grow in our faith or to lose it. I feel that this experience is that kind of a challenge. If we really have become the Christians God calls us to be, we have to believe that every part of our lives has value, including this illness that is claiming me."
That young man was living by faith. He was doing what Jesus said to do. He was picking up his cross and carrying it. He was living by trust in God. He was confessing that everything happens for a purpose. He was saying what the rabbi said: "God knows best; he always has his reasons."
Suffering and sorrow, like birth and death, are inseparable from life. There's no way we can escape them. They will seek us out and find us, no matter who we are or where we go.
The important thing isn't the suffering and sorrow that come our way. They are part and parcel with the gift of humanity that God has conferred on us. The important thing is the glorious gift that God grants us to we see suffering and sorrow thru the eyes of Jesus. The important thing is the gift God gives us to bring suffering and sorrow into the life of Jesus. The important thing is that we give our suffering and sorrow to Jesus for him to use as he will.
We can't avoid suffering and sorrow, but with God's help Jesus will use them. Jesus will turn them into something that is beneficial for the kingdom, not destructive.
Jesus will turn them into something that is life-giving, not death-dealing.
Jesus will turn them into something that will draw us closer to God instead of driving us farther away.
Today's gospel reading is a call to receive the gift of faith. It's a call to do what Jesus himself did. It's a call to do what Rabbi Asher did. It's a call to do what that young pastor did. It's a call to pick up our cross obediently and carry it.
And if we do this, if we heed this call, we will discover what Jesus discovered, we will discover what Rabbi Asher discovered, and we will discover what the young pastor discovered. We will discover that hidden in every cross, with Jesus, is a blessing that flows from the burden of the cross itself.
This is the mystery we celebrate this Lent and in this worship, today. This is the good news that Jesus shares with us today.
Paul echoes these words time and again.
Paul writes, "We know that all things work for good for those who love God." Romans 8:28
And again, he writes, "Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good." Romans 12:12, 21
Finally, he writes, "The sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us." Romans 8:18
“Those who want to save their life,” says Jesus, “will lose it.”
“But you who lose you life for my sake and the sake of the Gospel will save it.”
Take up your cross. "God knows best; he always has his reasons."