"From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."
We've begun a spiritual journey that can be rather painful.
I've been reflecting on one of Paul's statements in Galatians, as he warned the church that some around them were pushing a faith that looked very impressive, full of religious activity and gestures to prove its validity, like Jewish law and circumcision. Yet it cost very little. He contrasts that with the way of Jesus, who laid down his life for the sake of others to bring freedom, not more laws.
A he tells them that if they want to see if his faith is legitimate, to take a look at his own "marks." He'd been through a lot following Jesus, and his scars were living proof (2 Cor. 11:24). It wasn't religious gestures (circumcision), but rather the cost of faithful love, that proved his faith's legitimacy.
My family and I did some work in our woods on Saturday afternoon, hacking thorn bushes. Regardless of our attempts to avoid pain, we all got ripped up a bit. If you look at my hands, it's obvious that they bear the marks of a day in the thorns.
The Greek word for "marks" that Paul uses is stigmata. It literally means "scar marks." Stigmata was used in several ways in the ancient world. Runaway slaves who were found were branded on their foreheads. Soldiers of famous commanders had their names tattooed on their faces. And worshippers of a pagan goddess had her name branded on their foreheads as well. So Paul re-envisions the words and says... "my stigmata, my scar marks, are my sign that my life is wrapped up in Jesus."
We are now in the journey of Lent, traveling with Jesus toward the cross. During this time we embrace the frailty of our own human experience, and the need that we have for God's redemption. Some of us found meaning last evening in being "marked" with ashes, symbolizing our own brokenness, and also the willingness to walk with Jesus in the dying in order to walk with Jesus in the living.
As Christians we are are all "marked" people. We are people who follow a scarred savior. And we bear scars ourselves, though often they are not physical. Some of our scars are reminders of the cost of following the countercultural way of Jesus. Some of them are symbols of pain that God is healing and redeeming. But our to one another that God is present in our frailty, and that God is in the business of redeeming our pain. The marks we carry are a reminder that our wounds are not the end of our story, nor are they to be hidden as a source of shame. They are glimpses that we understand the suffering savior, that he understands us, and that we trust him.
I want to be marked this lent.
Marked as one who belongs to The Way.
Marked as one who will lay down my life in humility and love, even when it is costly.
Marked as one who follows the path of peace that my teacher walked, even in a world that celebrates violence.
Marked as one whose compassion extends beyond the thickly drawn lines of our philosophical echo chambers and out toward the isolating confinements of all who suffer.
Marked as one unafraid to give up for the sake of another, or to relinquish things in me that God is asking me to release.
Marked as one who embraces sorrows and limitations and mortality, yet still glimpses a hope that death cannot extinguish.
Marked as one whose scars show that I belong to Jesus.
Lent is a powerful season of being marked, and embracing our scars.
We indeed have a lot of "stigma" about being the people of Jesus. We have lot of stigma about bearing our hurts and being uncomfortable. We can have stigma about belonging to God's Church. And yet there is great beauty when the scars we bear are transformed into symbols and stories of God's redemption and healing. Lean into lent this year, my friends.
Jesus, help me be willing to be marked as I trust and follow you.