Rev’d Jonathan Gale
When Jesus was hanging on the cross, amongst those looking on were his mother Mary, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. At least three Marys there. The name derives from the Hebrew word “bitter” and these women were there to the bitter end.
As Jesus was about to be crucified they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; There is something about bitterness that is associated with suffering that brings out compassion.
In our Old Testament reading, we often think of Ruth as the loving one as she accompanies her mother-in-law Naomi back to Judah from Moab, but has it ever occurred to you what a loving person Naomi must have been for Ruth to leave her own people and, as a single foreigner, travel to Judah with Naomi.
When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ 20She said to them,
‘Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
Compassion is often associated with another characteristic and that is dedication.
I may have told this story before but as a nine year old little Protestant I attended a Roman Catholic school for 18 months, the Holy Childhood Convent in what was the capital of Zululand (Eshowe), and it was run by German nuns.
Twenty-two years later I returned to Eshowe for the first time, complete with glasses and a full beard, to inspect the local high school. I arrived at my hotel a bit early the afternoon before and thought, “I’ll shoot round to the Convent!”
Now the principal in my day was a Sr Martina and as I approached the principal’s office, I wondered whether she was still there. I poked my head into the office, and sure enough, leaning over a table, with her back to me, was Sr Martina.
Whenever I tell this story, the hairs on my arms stand on end because this is exactly how the conversation went: “Good afternoon Sister. You won’t remember me but …” She replied, “Jonathan Gale.”
Those nuns were so dedicated to the children they served! I believe that the only way she would have remembered this insignificant little Protestant boy was if she had been praying for him.
Sr Martina told me that Sr Kunhilda still ran the boys’ hostel so I trotted across there. I eventually found her mopping up vomit from the sick bay floor.
I think of our own Irene, who now lives in Eversleigh Hospital and who gave up any idea of marriage to look after her older parents.
I suppose the dedication we are talking about is as strong as death and even though we have that instrument of death, the cross, as the symbol of our faith; all it kills today are the unhelpful things in us. We put to death the ‘works of the flesh’ as Paul puts it, but our faith is about life! In fact what he says in Romans 8 is if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. So we’ll go with dedication! We’re about living!
There are many more examples of people who, because of the love of Christ, embraced bitterness rather than pleasure and poured out their lives in compassion for others.
There are people still doing so today and it’s because they understand one thing: Jesus gave up everything for them.
Paul, in speaking of God’s love, writes to the Romans saying, He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8: 32)
The writer to the Hebrews exhorts his readers saying Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart ..… (Hebrews 12)
Jesus faced the bitterness of death for us. Luke describes Jesus’ determination to go through with what the Father had called him to with the words, As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9: 51)
Someone once asked a saintly missionary whether he was sure that God had called him to the life of suffering and self-sacrifice he led. What if it were a huge mistake? What if God had not required it of him?
His reply was, “He has given up so much for me. How can I not use the little time I have here on earth to follow in his footsteps?”
Only when we know Jesus and how trustworthy he is, can we possibly dedicate our lives to the kind of service that he may well call us to. The prophet Habakkuk knew a little of trusting God. He cries out
17 Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
I’d like to end by saying this: You can trust Jesus for your life today. These dynamics of trusting in, knowing and walking with God are not simply stories in the bible for the hyper-spiritual. They are the bread and butter of what each of our lives can be if we place our trust in him.
While many of Jesus’ disciples had run away in fear, John, who later wrote as we read this morning: perfect love casts out fear, was standing with the three Marys. They were able to absorb the bitterness of the occasion because they knew the love that drove Jesus to the cross. It was hanging there suffering before their very eyes: for them.
That love is present to this day and is available to you and me.
I’d like you to take up your little cross right now and think about this as you grasp it in your hand: it is there for two reasons:
- To remind us of Jesus’ complete love for us, and
- To remind us it is there to get rid of the unhelpful things in our walk as disciples of Jesus
Let us pray:
There was a point is Jesus‘ life, Mark tells us, When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’ And yet Jesus’ consistent love and dedication for his family won them over.
Lord Jesus, win our hearts over to you. We are your family today. Take all our fear, our sinful preoccupation with self, our lack of trust in you; and wash it away in the bitter blood you shed on the cross for us. Take the gleam of faith that we present to you and set it alight in a fire of passion and compassion.
We give ourselves over to you, for we trust you. Make of us what you will Lord, for the sake of your kingdom.