Mark 14:17 - 26
Dr. Chris White July 7, 2013
This story cost me $65, so I intend to use it. We recently landed at a steak house with a $50 gift card from a friend and ordered like a party of four with a $50 head start. A $67 bill, then, was a yawner for the meal we enjoyed. When she returned with my gift card and debit card, however, she first had me sign my gift card receipt acknowledging the $12 still on the card. Twelve? Hmm. As it turns out, this card was a gift to the friend who passed it on to me, so we will never know who enjoyed a meal before us. The waiter was clearly not the one to answer my questions about the missing $38, so I didn’t ask. I certainly wanted to mention that I had expected a very different conversation than the one we were having about my tab. With nothing to offer but a whimper, I signed a ticket for the remaining cost and a tip.
That was a difficult exchange. It was about money, of course, but it was also about accepting a different frame of reality. The situation called for me to suspend a real personal advantage for something that was a bit more costly. And unexpected. And unfamiliar.
We are in the same situation in our walk with Christ. Our faith in Christ requires many exchanges or trades. Familiar ideas and valued identities are regularly exchanged in the process of growing more like Christ. And it is not always an easy exchange. It is worth noting that we are not the first to struggle with this, either. In Mark’s gospel we get to see how the first disciples struggled with the exchanges required of being near Jesus.
If you would turn with me to Mark 14, we’ll look closely at two quick exchanges built around the Last Supper. We’ll begin with verses 17-21:
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve. While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.” They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely not I.” “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, one who dips bread into the bowl with me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”
Our first great exchange is strength for vulnerability. The disciples are on the verge of what they presume to be full acceptance by Jerusalem, at the Passover no less. These three years with Jesus have convinced at least eleven of the disciples that they are at the center of God’s unfolding kingdom. And the strength of that unfolding kingdom is Jesus, the man at the table. They know him as the one who stills storms, heals the lame and blind, even brings the dead back to life. He is their Superman, their Man of Steel. What can go wrong?
Only one thing, really. Jesus explains that one of them—one of them at the table for a meal, one of them at the table for a meal and dipping bread from the same bowl—will betray him. And just that quickly an exchange is unfolding. All the ideas about Jesus the Untouchable and the Faithful Twelve are suspended. If Jesus can be betrayed, then he is far more vulnerable than they imagined. And if he is vulnerable to betrayal by one sitting at the table, then they are vulnerable as betrayers. That might explain the “Surely not I” that runs through the room. They may all say it as a defense aloud, but they all hear it as a question in their own minds. Further on in verses 27-31 we have that memorable scene where Peter is promising, even to the point of death, that he will not disown Jesus. The others make the same promise. They still think they’re invulnerable to the temptation of betrayal. They’ve not yet made the exchange.
The exchange here requires them to accept the truth of Jesus’ and their vulnerability. The exchanges are many. They must exchange their sense of Jesus as the untouchable superhero for what Jesus is—a suffering Messiah who can actually die. They must exchange their expectation of a king’s acclaim for Jesus for what actually awaits—a criminal’s death on a cross. And they must exchange their inflated sense of self for the truth of their own weakness—they will all flee. These are bitter trades.
What if we went so far as to say that vulnerability is a key ingredient for serving God? We live in a world consumed with security and personal betterment. It is impressive what we can build, buy, and boast. But when it comes to being human, there are no impregnable structures—be it the mind, the body, the bank, or the building. There is a breach in every wall we build. There is a breach in every version of ourselves we offer to God and the world. This exchange for vulnerability is not only realistic but helps us accept weakness, need, and limits as the norm, not the problem. (See Paul’s extensive, anguished struggle with this in Romans 7.)
This weakness is not lost on God. Jesus was among us as fully human, tasting fully the limits and sufferings of human life. God does not discount human limitations. Nor, it seems, is He in a hurry to change us into something superhuman. It is why he would say to the apostle Paul at the end of a series of anguished prayers for healing from a “thorn in the flesh, “My grace is sufficient for you; for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 cor. 12:8). No healing, just grace for the struggle. No doubt, Paul could offer all the reasons why he’d be a better servant with strength and not weakness. But he eventually settles here: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor 12:9).
It runs counter to our brains to believe that God is more honored when we serve Him in and through vulnerabilities and weakness rather that a self-prescribed position of strength. God finds pleasure in weak people trusting a strong God. He also seems to find it exquisitely rewarding to watch real humans embrace His will even when it means a heightened vulnerability. That, of course, describes Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. It describes common people giving financially to families and churches. It describes common people forgiving true offenses. It describes common people going to their knees in prayer for enemies and interceding for those who persecute them. It describes countless believers through the centuries who risk much for the sake of open confession of Christ.
There will always be a reason to know spiritual gifts and personal strengths, but there will always be a reason to distrust all that you feel makes you strong and secure. God may want to begin with your weakness. And if ever you feel like you’ve reached the end of God’s help because of your weakness, just know that you’ve probably just reached the starting line of something special.
Ready to swap?