- The Rev. Jessica Sexton
His Saving Nature
A friend of mine reminded me of a story, Catholic Priest and Theologian, Henri Nouwen shared quite a few years ago about an old man who used to meditate every morning on the bank of a river. One morning, after the old man had finished his meditation, he opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the river bank, the old man quickly stretched himself out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature.
As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. And instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after the pain subsided, he stretched himself out once again along the river bank to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its poisonous tail that the man’s hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.
At that moment, a passerby saw the old man along the river struggling with the scorpion and shouted: "Hey, stupid old man, what's wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don't you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?"
The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger's eyes he said calmly, "My friend, just because it is the scorpion's nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save." (Article Link)
Everytime I hear this story I wonder about my own nature. Am I the scorpion who can sting sometimes even when people are trying to help me? Am I the passerby who belittles and mocks people’s effort to care for others especially in impossible situations? Am I the old man attempting to help people even when I know I will get stung? Maybe the reality for me is that I am a little bit of all three.
But who I am in this story today? Who are you? In all the characters that we come across each year on Palm Sunday when we read the Passion of Jesus whether in the Gospel of Mark or Matthew or John, it can be easy for us to sit back and think that we have nothing in common with the people played out in this narrative.
But the hard and honest truth, is that in this reading we have more in common with these people than we would like to admit. So, when we read this painful story of betrayal and denial and execution, we are compelled to wonder about our own human nature. Who are we in this story in Mark?
Maybe you and me are Peter, James and John, trying to staying awake in the Garden of Gethsemane? But we are not in the Garden we are entrenched in our own lives, in our own plans, and heartaches and struggles that test who we are as people. Trying to stay awake and live into the Gospel of Jesus that has been given to us to awaken our soul with hope.
Maybe we see ourselves in the 12 disciples? Overwhelmed by the love and power of Jesus. Yet unintentionally we complicate our relationship with him when he has made it super simple--he said, take and eat, take and drink--this is my body and blood given for you.
Who are we? Judas? Dealing with a betrayal from someone we love or maybe we have betrayed ourselves? Planting our kiss on the world and on our relationships that shields our hidden agenda. Thinking that no one will know what we are hiding...that what you seek in wealth, in passion, in power...will not cost you but the reality is that your reward is at the cost of others. Judas received money for the cost of Jesus’ life.
Or Maybe we are Peter? Maybe you can relate to his self-denial? I sure can! A part of our human nature that causes us to lack self-awareness sometimes. To not admit to our imperfections but to hide behind them with our arrogance and pride. Peter didn’t think he would deny Jesus and neither do we. But he did and we do too. We deny when we succumb to the pressures of wealth and privilege and social acceptance instead of doing what we know is right.
Who are we? The Jewish leaders--the Chief Priests and the scribes and the pharisees? We think because we are Christians who come to church each Sunday and tithe, that we are able to pass judgment on those around us. Where our human nature is once again challenged by arrogance and entitlement.
How about Pilate? Do we see ourselves in him. Struggling to people please. Knowing deep down in your gut the decisions you have to make are going to disappoint those around you. And you fear and anticipate the fallout of your decisions.
Or unfortunately we may see ourselves in the crowd. In their mocking...in their fear...
Who are we? Is it in our nature to betray, to lie, to feel unworthy, to succumb to the pressures of the crowds that surround us? Yes.
But may we remember, that just because it’s humanity’s nature to sting, that did not change Jesus’ nature to save.
As we enter into Holy Week, may we know that before Jesus hung from that wooden cross, beaten and bloody, and charged as a political criminal of Rome, he knew our nature (he knew sometimes we are like Peter and Pilate and Judas and that angry crowd)-- just like that old man knew that the scorpion would sting.
But for Jesus we are worth saving--no matter what we have done or what we have left undone. Whatever part of nature that we live into--Jesus loves us with his whole heart. May we ever be mindful of that love as we begin a week that is the culmination of the greatest love story. Where a man gave his life to save us from ourselves so that we may have an eternity to know that saving love of God.
So as we journey to the cross being aware of our human nature, of our frailties, and of how we are more similar to the people in the Passion Narrative than we would like, let us know that it is through this journey we are about to take with Jesus, that he is saying to us, “my dearest friends, just because it is in your nature to hurt, that does not change my nature to save.” Amen.