The Shadow of the Cross falls across our whole world


This year, we have been reading from the Gospel of Mark, “a gospel in a hurry.” It moves quickly through the events of Jesus’ ministry, jumping right in at his first proclamation of the kingdom. It frequently repeats a term that translates as “right away,” or “immediately.” Mark rarely gives us the details found in the other gospels. For example, it only rarely tells us the names of the people that Jesus encounters. As rushed as the story might be, it slows down when it reaches the events of Jesus’ passion. There the gospel goes from describing months to days to hours. For this reason, one commentary called this gospel “a passion narrative with an introduction.”
In a number of places in Mark, we also hear Jesus’ command of others to silence concerning his deeds and identity. Early modern scholars termed this aspect “the Messianic secret.” The term, though, fails to recognize that there is no actual secret in the gospel. Even when Jesus commands that to one be told, the word about him continues to spread. There is something else going on here.
Mark was addressing an early Christian community that was undergoing deadly persecution. These Christians were struggling to keep hope alive in the face of poverty, displacement, arrest and martyrdom. Mark focuses on Jesus’ own suffering as a revelation of God’s own nature and God’s response to human suffering. It is why the gospel spends so much time on the passion and foreshadows the passion almost from the first verses. He wanted his Christians to understand that you cannot really know the truth of Jesus unless you see his passion. This is why the first person to speak the Lord’s identity properly is standing at the foot of the cross. The Centurion sees the Lord’s death and exclaims “truly this was the Son of God!” It is why Jesus warns others not to speak of his identity before this crucial revelation.
At the end of the first chapter of Mark, there is a good illustration of this aspect, including the way in which the “shadow of the cross” falls across the whole gospel. The encounter between Jesus and a leper is short and lacks much detail. However, the few reported details are significant. As a leper, the man was not only suffering a painful and deadly disease, but he was also “unclean” by the ritual purity laws of Leviticus. In Jesus’ day, people with leprosy were cast out of family and society to die alone. They were like those already dead. Such is the man that dares to approach Jesus. He shows courage and faith in the Lord — more faith than even the disciples as the man kneels and begs in an attitude of worship. Then something amazing happens — Jesus reaches out and touches the man. Such would render a person unclean like the leper. Jesus has no need to touch. We know from elsewhere that he can heal from a distance. And yet he touches the man. This gesture of simple human kindness brings healing and restoration. The man is freed from disease and returned to the society of the living.
Then we see another aspect of the encounter. We are told that following the encounter, Jesus must go out into the isolation of the wilderness. Later in the story, we will see his skin marred by the terror of the lash. He will walk alone and be rejected to his death.
This brief story tells the story of the gospel in miniature. We are all the walking dead, doomed by death and unable to save ourselves. The Lord touches us and lifts our sin. He takes it upon himself, suffering our fate to set us free.
The shadow of the cross falls across our own world. We all have moments of fear, despair and anguish. Mark’s Gospel is a gift to us in those moments, for it reveals the Lord’s own presence by our side. The horror of the bloodied cross becomes the revelation of the Lord’s healing love. By that redeeming love, we can speak of the “glory” of the cross and call it the “tree of life.” The only shadow now is that of the loving Savior who reaches out to touch our wounds.