Today’s Scripture: Mark 10:32-34, 46-52
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him. (NRSV)
…and they are on the road, on the way to Jerusalem. From earlier discussions, both Jesus and the twelve are now haunted by the growing sense that he is going there to die.
Strange (or is it?) that sometimes the way to death is more difficult than death itself. Death is the finality, but the way to death must pass through dread, fear, and denial toward acceptance. And acceptance must occur among the dying and those to be left behind if honest communication and quality time shared before the end is to be possible.
Jesus walks ahead of the twelve alone with focus and courage, having long ago accepted death at the hands of enemies as his final earthly fate if necessary. The twelve lag behind, following their master but confused and bewildered and afraid.
Jesus tells them again for the third time what lies ahead and with more detail than before. And they listen. But they are not ready to accept the truth. And in spite of all his efforts, Jesus cannot bring the twelve around to accept his death as inevitable, to understand that his ultimate purpose will not fail, or to rejoice with him prior to the cross because of the promise of his resurrection.
Accepting the fact of one’s own or a loved one’s imminent death is never easy, even when it is somewhat expected due to age, or illness, or, in Jesus’ case, the inevitable consequence of his life’s mission at odds with the political and religious establishments of his day. What makes acceptance even more difficult is that it must happen at two levels — both intellectual and emotional; and it must occur within all parties involved.
Sadly, Jesus and his disciples are never able to be on “the same awareness page” / “the same acceptance page” for an honest and heartfelt conversation about his encroaching death. The twelve who choose to remain in the dark, to remain overcome by fear, are aptly portrayed by their chant in Jesus Christ Superstar: “What’s the buzz, tell us what’s happening. What’s the buzz, tell us what’s happening.”
The author of Mark’s Gospel, however, did not wish the last word of his message to be the disciples’ confusion, denial, and blindness to the truth of what lay ahead for their master. He therefore purposefully framed the journey to Jerusalem narrative with two stories of blind men, men who were healed from their blindness, received sight, and followed Jesus to the end. According to Mark, it is not the twelve apostles but the blind man of Bethsaida (8:22-26) and the blind beggar Bartimaeus (10:46-52) whose opened eyes lighten the valley of the shadow of death for Jesus on his way to Jerusalem to die.
Jesus gives sight, but we must choose to accept that gift of sight wherever it may take us. Acceptance by all involved of the reality taking place at a dying loved one’s bedside provides common ground where communication is possible before this life ends. What a blessing!
PERSONAL POST SCRIPT:
Our family lost my mother to death on December 30. She was 94. Because of her age, she and we had been remotely preparing for the inevitable for some years, yet none of us realized when she entered the hospital on Christmas Eve morning that she would not return home.
In the midst of holiday frenzy we had to halt — and change direction. We had to begin for real that final preparation stage toward our mother’s death. This time was NOT a rehearsal. By the grace of God, who worked through one “Angel Hospitalist”, all of our family and Mom were able to work through our confusion, fears, and questions to reach that required stage of understanding and acceptance in time for honest moments together before she left us for what she so often called “the Great Beyond.”
In the valley of the shadow of our mother’s death, we were blessed by the hospitalist. (He does have a name!) In the valley of the shadow of Jesus’ death on the cross, at least according to Mark, Jesus was blessed by the two blind men (also with names) to whom he was able to give sight.