"I am afraid of a failure like that"

"And they all forsook him, and fled." (Mk 14.50)

I read that line again yesterday morning, and again it caught and held me. The other day I had commented on that article on the Jesus Manifesto site, closing with the words, "The cross is a much more powerful witness than the serving spoon." But it left me wondering again about the meaning of the cross. I think this line from Mark says something about the meaning and experience of the cross.

Usually we think of the cross as an experience of being persecuted or attacked, which is not so uncommon for us. Or we see the cross (or similarly, the martyr's pyre) from the perspective of history, as the sacrifice of a hero, the brief trial of one who would eventually be praised for their humility and admired for their victory over all who opposed them. We label our difficulties and setbacks as "crosses" and press on towards the success we expect for God's servants.

But I don't think it's fair to equate the cross with our temporary setbacks. In the experience of Jesus' life, the cross was not a setback. It was failure. The crowds turned against him, all his closest followers abandoned him and fled, and he was condemned and was killed. He died. That's not a setback on the path to success. In human terms, that's the end. And for everyone looking on, including Jesus (who wished not to see it, begged not to see it), it looked like complete failure.

I admit that I am afraid of a failure like that. I am afraid for the severe cost to myself and to my wife. I am afraid of how it would be such a discouragement to my friends and community. I am afraid that, because of me and my poor choices, the good things of God that I tried to share would appear to be worth nothing, the truth of God that I tried to speak would appear to be all lies. I am afraid I would utterly despair if I saw that.

And yet the failure of the cross was the way that God chose to reveal himself most perfectly.

So I must not fear even a failure of this magnitude. Somehow, it was important that Jesus fail, fail to significantly change society (or even the people of God), fail to inspire even his closest followers to stand with him at the end—fail, even though he had done everything right. Fail completely. Die. End his life a failure. So that we cannot honestly say that he succeeded in the end, eventually overcame those who opposed him. He lost. The victory that he experienced was not his accomplishment—how could it be, he was dead—it was given to him by God. After all his efforts failed, God gave the success.

So I must not fear failure. It is tremendously important that the victory, the success, be God's alone. And even when my failure comes, even utter failure, the end, that does not mean that God has failed. Only let my failure, like Jesus', be the moment for God's miraculous success.