On grace and dying to our expectations

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Unsplash

Welcome to my ‘Layman’s Lectionary’ series where I stumble my way through the liturgical year and share my layman’s testimonies and confessions on modern culture and daily life as it corresponds to scripture.

Tuesday of Holy Week

Click here for today’s Vanderbilt Revised Common Lectionary readings.

I love how, right here in today’s gospel reading from John, we have Jesus referring to himself as the Son of Man, not the Son of God as he’s often referred to.

In fact, as I read today’s readings, I see how much paradox is baked into it…

Strength = Weakness
Wisdom = Foolishness
Life = Death
Servitude = Power
Human = Divine

It goes to show that this Jesus story will likely never ‘make sense’ to the egoic, individualized, survival-based part of the human mind. When it comes to the ‘ways of the world’, this faith is innately paradoxical and utterly nonsensical.

The crucifixion and everything leading up to it seems like such an ungodly move. Why this lowly desert mystic, Jesus? Why didn’t this grand God that we imagined (and still do, in many ways) come bursting out of the sky in full glory and tell us exactly what to do so that we could just… do it? Why didn’t some anthropomorphic deity show its face and tell us who exactly is good and bad so that it was settled right then and there?

Maybe it’s because this divine ever-loving creative intelligence that is God knew that demands and commands wouldn’t work. It seems like God tried that through Moses and look where that got humanity. (I mean, what do you do when you’re told what to do? You, my fellow human, do — or want to do — the same as me: THE EXACT OPPOSITE.)

Instead of a clear objective roadmap (oh how simple it must be — albeit delusional — to hold the view of a literal and inerrant Bible), we’re left to sift through the counterintuitive swamp of paradox that is the gospel.

As I read through these texts, I wonder why I’m even doing it. I’m a modern privileged human. I have Spotify streaming into my ears and can play any song I want in seconds on demand. I have Tim Ferriss and so many other brilliant podcasters dolling our more productivity and life hacks than I could ever ask for, for free. I’m vaccinated. I’m drinking nice coffee graced with designer oat milk. We have clean water (I think), my family can pay the bills, and although we’re solidly middle class and not nearly as caked up as our current American royalty, we’re in good health. Things are looking up. I think.

So, why this Bible stuff? What’s the relevance? Maybe we should let the churches crumble and party on…

But then, I’m left with my interior self. I’m faced with the suffering in the world that makes no sense. I’m faced with my impending death, the thought of which I can only block for so long with endless digital content and distraction.

The human condition is messed up. And it’s the most beautiful thing ever.

I need meaning. I find paradox healthy in this age of processed certainty. I need narrative (dare I say that I need a meta-narrative). I need to know how to sit in solidarity with the suffering. I need to find reverence for the mundane and joy in the unexpected beauty of life. I need to know that there’s something… more.

But more than all, I need an ‘other’ that can offer me love and forgiveness when I don’t deserve it. This is my only saving grace and getting it from other humans is a blessing, but a fleeting one.

This God who dies on a cross so as to shift the cultural religious narrative from dominance, power, and control to surrender, service, and self-emptying love is something I… need.

We all wanted Jesus to be a certain kind of king that we could respect. But if he were to be that, he’d be perpetuating the sorrow and despair that come from appeasing the inner accuser (Satan) that lives in us all. Jesus had to die to this to be free of it so that we can as well.

And so, as I trudge through this swamp of paradox that runs counter to my modern American male cultural narrative, I’m finding so much more peace through dying to my unceasing inner demands and expectations than through trying to live up to them. Because the more of an ability I have to control my life that this modern world has given me, the more disappointed I am in myself to be doing such a poor job of it.

Turns out, the last thing I need is more control. 
Instead, what I need is release from it.

This is grace, the one-way love that only God can give us, so well personified (though not solely) through Jesus on a cross.

This is what we celebrate this very holy week. Salvation from ourselves and our inner-accuser. And if that isn’t relevant to today’s performance-based, self-righteous, virtue-signaling world, I don’t know what is.