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11-20-19 - Where's the Phone Booth?

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

And they cast lots to divide his clothing. The people stood by, watching Jesus on the cross; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, "He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!" The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, and saying, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!"

Jesus was used to that mocking question, “If you are…” In his time of testing in the desert, the three big temptations were prefaced with, “If you are the Son of God…” During his earthly ministry, Jesus was a king in disguise, like royals in fairy tales who wander their realm as commoners to find out what’s really going on. And he had a really good cover, “plain old human.” All through his public life, people questioned his heavenly identity because of his earthly markers – how could someone who came from Galilee be the Messiah? How could someone whose family we know be the Holy One?

On the cross, stripped of his humanity, even his clothing, Jesus looks nothing like the Messiah. The onlookers mock him; his own followers ache for him to show himself at last, for his sake and for theirs. "It’s time for the phone booth, Clark – we know you’re Superman. Show yourself!” And Jesus does nothing. Nothing, that is, but pray to his heavenly Father, forgive his executioners, extend salvation to a thief dying with him. Nothing much.

Some weeks ago, I discussed Martin Luther’s notion of the Glorious Exchange, in which Christ takes on our threadbare beggars’ rags and gives us his royal robes to wear. Here is that moment. As his persecutors cast lots for his cloak, Jesus puts on our raggedness, our self-centeredness, our capacity for cruelty, and allows it to die with him.

But no one can tell that’s what’s going on. Paul wrote“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation…” The problem is, even as image he is invisible. He just looks like a poor sap who shot for more than he could pull off and is paying the ultimate price.

Are there times when you’ve joined that chorus? “Come on Jesus, I’m believing in your almighty power to transform all things, to make us all whole. Now would be a great time to show yourself…” I’ve prayed that more than once. In fact, that prayer probably haunts much of our doubt and despair. Even so, we are invited to persist in praying, in believing, in claiming, in rejoicing.

Think of a really challenging situation you are faced with right now. Invite Jesus to show up in it and reveal power and life. Is it more impossible than what Jesus did on the cross? Sure, it looked like death had won. Took a few days to find out something much deeper had happened.

It might take more than three days for us to see what God is up to in our prayers. And some things we will never understand in this life. That doesn’t mean Superman is gone or defeated. It’s just that, for some strange reason, God has chosen to make us the phone booths in which Clark Kent becomes Superman. So, give the man some space.

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