What does the cross require of us? Does the event of the cross require anything of us? As we discussed this question this morning, we fell into a conversation about difficult relationships. If one feels hostility within a relationship, the natural reaction would be to back away. Jesus’ ministry created tensions within the Jewish faith itself. The Pharisees were not happy with a Teacher who called for abandonment of all laws except for the law of love. Their carefully established way of life was being shaken to its core. Jesus’ ministry was to all people, but most especially for those who the religious authorities did not include. Because he was at Temple, Jesus spent time among the Pharisees.
While he didn’t go out of his way to be with them, he did address their questions. One such question is from Matthew 22:16-22 when the Pharisees sought to entrap him. They sent along their disciples (note they would not dirty their own hands) to entrap him. 16 “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.” Jesus was aware of their intentions. Regardless, he engaged their question.
Jesus saw opportunity. If he addressed their question, even while calling out their teachers as the “hypocrites” that they so obviously were, he was still teaching. The more opportunity to teach, the more people would hear his message. Hostility is fear of letting go. Jesus did not gently pry open their minds with this parable; his response was a rebuke, much like the one Peter received in this Sunday’s passage. Truth can throw hostility back on its haunches. As usual, the response is amazement from those distrustful inquirers. Addressing hostility with truth, coming face to face with it, generates opportunities for teaching, as Jesus well knew. Jesus faced down hostilities with a frank truth-ness that “amazed” its hearers. Our call to the cross is to not back away from those hostilities we see in life: hostility toward the poor, the addicted, the immigrant, the mentally ill; the list is longer. We are called to speak openly, as Jesus did to Peter and the assembled in the Mark passage, against evil as it seeps its way innocuously into our religious consciousness. The Pharisees had lost their way. Our cross is to bear the hostility that stands its ground against the true Gospel witness.