The lectionary Gospel text for this coming Sunday is one in a series of stories in Mark’s gospel in which the disciples jockey for position while Jesus tries to get them to see that they are missing the point. If we were reading or hearing the whole gospel in one sitting, the repeated refrain would be painfully obvious. Against our human tendency to want to be Number One, Jesus holds up images of service, childhood, and sacrifice as the ideals which the disciples are to seek.
I read these stories with bifocal lenses. On the one hand, we certainly need the reminder that following Jesus is not about being great, and certainly not about re-making anything – self, country, or church – into an imagined vision of past greatness. On the other hand, I imagine that many of you have something in common with me, in that we have an internal voice that is constantly telling us something very different than, “You are the greatest!” In fact, our internal voice is saying quite the opposite: “You’re the worst!” What’s more, I suspect that oftentimes the outward performance of bravado, like we see in the disciples, is actually the external acting out of that internal smear campaign. We grapple for position and declare ourselves better-than exactly because inside, we are full of loathing and self-doubt.
But that internal voice is not the voice of Jesus.
That ain’t Jesus.
To hear Jesus’s voice in these stories from Mark’s gospel is to hear Jesus’s call to the disciples in its fullness – a call to community and mutuality, a call to pay attention to voices that are being ignored or forgotten, a call to care for each other in the context of a caring community. The disciples are following Jesus along The Way, the road that leads to the cross; and it’s easy to forget that this journey, while shadowed by death, is a life-affirming one. Jesus isn’t headed to the cross because he thinks suffering is an inherent good, but rather exactly as a challenge to the death-dealing powers of this world. In the new community of Christ, the death-dealing Cross will be transformed into a new Tree of Life – life, not death, is the completion of this story.
So if you, like me, have a tendency to listen to that internal voice telling us that we’re nothing, we’re no good, we’re trash, then here is an invitation to listen, instead, to Jesus’s voice, calling us to life. And yes, that call to life is also absolutely a call to those things that can support our mental health journeys, from medication to counseling to community support.
The voice calling you trash? That ain’t Jesus. The one calling you to life? That’s the voice of One who comes that we might have life, and life abundantly.
David Finnegan-Hosey is the author of Christ on the Psych Ward and Grace is a Pre-Existing Condition: Faith, Systems, and Mental Healthcare. He serves as College Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministries at Barton College. He holds an M.Div from Wesley Theological Seminary and a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education from the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center. He is certified by Mental Health First Aid USA to provide initial help to people experiencing depression, anxiety, psychosis, and substance use disorders. In 2011, David was diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a series of psychiatric hospitalizations. He now speaks and writes about the intersections among mental illness, mental health, and faith. David lives in Wilson, NC with his wife Leigh, their daughter Laila, and their dog Penny Lane.