The suffering servant—the one who serves a thing outside his understanding in spite of his suffering—is the one who speaks straight to the soul. He always is NOT desired, NOT seen. Christianity shouts from the rooftops with inaudible yelps: “Not majesty! Not splendor! Look lower! Don’t look to the believable! Look to the unbelievable! It is the lowest thing that is lifted higher than all others!”
Man should not suffer.
No! Man suffers.
It is the man who strives to avoid suffering that holds the truth of life!
No! It is the man who accepts it...that holds the keys to to life. The man who is MOST humble is stepped upon. The man who loves most of all is the tenderest shoot in a desert. The man who bears the ripest fruits of character is bruised and bloody beyond recognition. Nations, kingdoms, society, families, education, systems, politics, philosophies, stoics, gnostics, science, doctrines, the crowd and the individualist alike cannot stand near him without smashing him.
But it is exactly that…precisely this…by definition and design: that which is unexpected harbors hope.
Take all that is desirable—he is not there.
Take all that is splendid and majestic—he will not be found clothed in those garments.
Look elsewhere to finally see. Listen far from what is obvious to the ears to finally hear.
Buddha says life is suffering. And as statements go, that one has a lot going for it.
But life is also alive. It is also joy. And this aspect of life seems to win somehow. Little by little. Like the tip of a wave cresting toward the shore instead of away. The thing tilts in our favor, bringing things to us. New surprises at our feet. New shells to wonder at.
Otherwise, by some mathematical law somewhere, we should be long gone. Little by little, even great blocks of marble should be chipped and chiseled to dust. Yet, here we stand like King David, created in the image of God.
"Man...this amazing man...figured out how to go on after suffering."
—from the snarling lips of Satan; from the smiling lips of God.
God is saying to the Israelites through the symbol of Moses’s raised serpent, “That feeling of discomfort slithering and squeezing around your midsection is a sign of undealt with truth in your life. All those parts of your world you once felt ok ignoring...denying—have become obstacles—a sign of your unredeemed state—your suffering highlights your need for salvation. They—the undone things—have turned your landscape into a place where you can no longer peacefully ignore; no longer make things irrelevant. This desert of discomfort is not a place of peace. It is a place of broken relationships littering the ground around you—a place of not working on what you are supposed to be doing —of not becoming what you always should have been—of truths avoided; not ‘faced.’ I will not help by ’taking it away,’ I will help you by drawing your eye sharply to where you need to look the most—to the point of truth. If you really want help, it’s time to look here—to face the snake. Here is the hope lying within. I promise you, you can do it. I have created you to be able to handle snakes."
Can you sense the relief that the problem is actually you? For if the world is the problem; then that is hopeless.
The moment he is called out as the chosen one and the spirit newly rests upon his shoulders like Elijah’s mantle, Jesus is lead by the spirit into a wilderness of suffering and insufficiency—because that is the state of all man. And in that state, in that place, he faces the ultimate representation of adversity--The Adversary--that which opposes all man. Why? Why at the beginning?
Suffering--vulnerability--want--death-- is laid out before him at the beginning, because that is where his journey will end. And before he can minister--transform--change--before he can relieve the world’s suffering--it is absolutely fundamental that he confronts the question of what to do about his own suffering and insufficiency—of the temptation of not having, but having the power to get.
What does he do in that wilderness—in that state?
What do you do? That same wilderness of suffering and death is of course your natural habitat. What do you do?
Do you have the power to change lifeless green paper into bread and satisfy yourself? The world says you do. Jesus says to the world, “I don’t need what you are offering.” He is stating that in your chronic condition of suffering, life is not about getting what you want--it is about accepting it. And those are very different things. Opposite actually. It is facing it. Not avoiding it. He knows real life actually exists outside of your wants. Transcends it.
"More than bread alone" is the tap on my wife—Betsy’s shoulder in the grocery store by the cash register worker who she talks about all the time and cares for and prays for and has developed a relationship with; and says things like, My friend is not here today. I wonder where she is? How she is?
What is the goal of a trip to the grocery store? Where does life happen in the grocery store? Is it the exchanging of a plastic card for bread?
But then, right in the middle of our lives, right in the middle of “I don’t have. I must get,” right in the middle of the grocery store…a tap on the shoulder. It’s her! And look! She was on her break and she saw Betsy and wanted to see her. Then, two people smiling at each other in the middle of their lives. They talk about life. They talk about hurts and joys. And Jesus looks over to the Adversary with a smile on his face, “See, where life is?”
When Betsy gets to her car, she realizes she inadvertently stole a few items at the self-checkout and has to go in to pay for them. Why did that happen? Because she had left the wilderness of want and inhabited the kingdom of heaven. And, she, a creator of new worlds, takes joy in that moment, too.
Where is life? It transcends our sufferings and our wants. It is more satisfying than a break at a work. It is worth more than bread alone.
Am I a “young” person or an “old” person? Are you young or old? Today—right this moment—which are you? Young or old? The answer is, interestingly, not immediately clear. Like many things it depends on something like, “compared to what?”
In John 21, Jesus told Peter what being “young “ was like; then what being “old” will be like. John, the one whom Jesus loved, watched Jesus possibly closer than anybody. The gospel writer then compressed Jesus’ life—the full account of which could never fit in all the libraries of the world— into a cosmic diamond. Each word part of a crystalline structure. Natural, yet no less perfect for its naturalness. Its hardness only outmatched by its beauty. Held to the light, Jesus’ own words; his own questions and answers; surprise at every turn. They are packed and folded with such density, that should I be granted a thousand more lives to live, I would never be able to fully unfold them and, must often simply gaze at the cross-shaped kaleidoscopic lights that shine forth. In verse 18, one small example is the lesson of “young and old.” Notice the absence of what a person’s life looks like who is neither young nor old. (Or…uh oh…are you like me—smack in the middle of your lives?) Jesus is making the point to Peter, and to us all, that there is no in between—you are either aiming up or down, reaching for heaven or hell, walking in light or dark, following Jesus or Satan, proclaiming curses or blessings—being young or old. As you gaze into this facet, you must ask yourself: just when—exactly—and how, does that transfiguration occur—where is that inflection point between going where we want and being led? Jesus describes it—like a compass describes an arc—he describes this continuum from “young to old” with his life. He tells Simon Peter—the same Simon Peter who thought he knew…what? What was best? He thought he knew more than Jesus? As we also are; he was always quick to step in front of his Master:
“Our victory—my victory—will surely not have to go through suffering and death!” says Peter. And Jesus’ emphatic answer: “Get behind me Satan!”
Jesus tells that same Simon Peter on the shore of Capernaum—at the end of their journey—at the very end of John’s gospel:
“I am telling you the Truth: when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus was always going to the cross. That is what made him the ultimate leader; He always knew exactly where he was going. He goes there still.
Relent control. Become old. Let go.
“The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death—we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship