A strange defeat

    March 24, 2024

    Written close in time to Jesus’ death, the writer of Mark’s Gospel reflects a community grappling with what looks conventionally like failure. Rather than triumphalism and a victory lap, we are gifted with a compelling Lenten perspective on failure. Such a perspective is timely, given the frailty of so many of our own projects. America’s experiment of democracy comes readily to my mind as we approach a presidential election with our federal political structures barely functioning.

    What question does Jesus answer in Mark’s Gospel? Quite simply: “How should we live?” — especially when so much is breaking down. From this Gospel’s beginning, we experience a Jesus who is driven by the Spirit, always listening to God, always discerning the next best step. For Mark, Jesus’s ministry culminates in a strange defeat on the cross: strange because it is in this loss that God’s identification with history’s victims is made clear.

    To guide us, the church couples this Gospel reading with verses from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah in which we hear God giving the prophet a well-trained tongue, an ear to hear and fortitude to not turn back even in the face of violence and insults. Paul’s letter to the Philippians describes Jesus as emptying himself, humbling himself, becoming obedient even when he is scapegoated to the point of death.

    As we enter this Holy Week and walk with Jesus to the culmination of his ministry, let us call to mind who is being scapegoated today, who is being crucified. Migrants at the U.S. southern border are in my heart as I board a plane to El Paso today.

    Please join me in praying that we too can:

    This is the Way of Jesus, one that brings new life. This is Good News for all of us.

    Mary J. Novak serves as Executive Director of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, a political ministry founded by Catholic Sisters over 50 years ago.

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