When demanding fair pay for hard work, we often say that a person should get what they deserve. Oddly, we use those same words when it comes time to sentence a convicted criminal. It is only fair when we get what we deserve. We call that justice. When you get better than you deserve, it is not justice at all. Instead, it's what we call mercy. God is not fair. God is merciful.
A billboard for a hospital with the word "mercy" in its name once encouraged drivers-by to go to that hospital with the words "you deserve mercy." If you deserve it, it's not mercy.
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Oscar Wilde penned a powerful story about behaviors and definitions and justice called The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian was a handsome young man, a model of physical beauty and moral virtue. People complimented him on his good graces. Parents pointed to him as an example to their youth. One artist even painted an exquisite portrait of him.
"Have you seen it?" whispered the Barbie doll to her next door neighbour.
The next Barbie doll in line was instantly alert. There were five different Barbie dolls, who lived jumbled together in the toy cupboard but who were so jealous of each other that they rarely spoke. "Seen what?" asked the second Barbie doll, blue eyes darting all round the room.
"The Princess," replied the first Barbie with glee. "Caitlin's done her hair and it looks terrible!"
These verses from Mark's gospel are a call to commitment, a call to sacrifice, and a call to give up everything of earthly value in life. To say these are difficult verses is truly an understatement. It is pretty clear that the disciples are not at all ready for what Jesus is saying. They are not ready for Jesus to die and they certainly are not ready to die themselves.