An Alternative Reality

Mark 15:39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
40 Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. 41 In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.

The Roman centurion and the women present highlight again, in Mark’s Gospel, that Jesus’ closest disciples fail to see who he really is. Ben Witherington quoting Ched Meyers says about Mark’s inclusion of these three women,

“The world order is being overturned, from the highest political power to the deepest cultural patterns, and it begins within the new community. It will be these women, the ‘last’ become ‘first,’ who will be entrusted with the resurrection message.’” (Witherington, The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, p. 401).

Jesus setups up an alternative reality, where the last become first, where one’s gender does not keep him or her out of the inner circle, where its people turn the other cheek, live by the law of loving God and others, and live as true light and salt. It is not Peter, James, and John who are there to the end, but it is Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome—women, second-class citizens.

When I was in third grade, I remember my friends making fun of me because my shorts were too short. I must have missed the memo that went around but my friends went from wearing shorts at mid-thigh to down to the knee. I was embarrassed when my friend pointed it out—how different I was to everyone else. My immediate thought was: I need to get new shorts! I was different and that scared me.

But the cross is different. It is the way—the way no one expected—for God to bring about his kingdom. Jesus lived an alternative life and died an alternative death so that the kingdom of God might be seen. John Howard Yoder puts it this way,

“Here at the cross is the man who loves his enemies, the man whose righteousness is greater than that of the Pharisees, who being rich became poor, who gives his robe to those who took his cloak, who prays for those who despitefully use him. The cross is not a detour or a hurdle on the way to the kingdom, nor is it an event on the way to the kingdom; it is the kingdom come” (Yoder, The Politics of Jesus, p. 51).

Jesus on the cross

On the cross, Jesus shows that in order for God to be victorious over sin and death, Jesus must lose this battle. For God to win, Jesus must lose. God is victorious in Jesus’ death. His kingdom, his rule on earth as it is in heaven, has now come. So, in his death, Jesus experiences God’s victory, and we do too. The apostle Paul says in Colossians 1 that God’s fullness dwelt in the person of Jesus and in him God was reconciling all things—in heaven and earth—to himself.
And God wants us to be a part of this, too. He wants us to be people of reconciliation. This is the start of God’s new creation. The old way of doing things, where evil reigns and has a hold on this world, has been eradicated and replaced with the kingdom of God—God’s rule on earth as it is in heaven—and this all begins with Jesus’ death. 2 Corinthians 5 puts it this way,

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors…

The Church—the followers of Jesus—is the agent of the new creation. We are its agents. We are its ambassadors. We are its “people of reconciliation.” We are the alternative to the world. We are so because Jesus was so. Jesus heals the leper and is not allowed back in town. He takes the leper’s status. He is an alternative so his followers must also be.

If we are honest the world needs something different to its own way. What does it look like for us to be the alternative reality to the world’s reality? What does it look like to be the alternative to a world that believe in redemptive violence—that killing someone will make everything better? What does it look like to be the alternative to a world where racism happens and sex trafficking happens? What does it look like on a day-to-day basis to be the alternative to the Rat Race? Or consumerism? Or to be the alternative to cheating and backstabbing to get ahead? What does it look like to be the alternative to gossip? Or apathy? Or cyncisim?

Jesus has set up his alternative reality, which is God’s alternative reality. The alternative reality to the world looks like the cross. It looks like the Son of God dying to save Israel and the world. It looks like forgiveness. It looks like the end of exile. It looks like a man wrongly accused. It looks like the King of the Jews mocked and laughed at. But surely this man, Jesus, is the Son of God, who was abandoned and judged for the sake of the world so that we might live an alternative reality for the sake of the world.

May you be different. May you be the alternative reality. And may we live the life of the cross and see God’s kingdom come.

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