Close Enough to Kill
Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming first to restore all things. How then is it written that the Son of Man is to endure many sufferings and be treated with contempt? But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased.” – Mark 9:10-13 (adapted)
The scribes were teaching that the long-dead prophet Elijah would return to prepare the way for the Messiah. Now there’s speculation about whether Elijah had come and who he might be. Jesus? John the Baptist? King Herod wonders, too. His money’s on John, who fascinates him. But John’s uncompromising morality enrages him, and he throws John in jail. Then he kills him.
So much for the glorious prophets. Which is precisely what Jesus is explaining to his disciples here, hinting at his own fate: You could be as great as the great Elijah, he says; they’ll still do to you whatever they want. It’s not rocket science to foretell a prophet’s end. Or a Messiah’s.
In Advent we don’t usually contemplate Jesus’ suffering and death. We focus instead on God’s intimacy with us in the human flesh of Jesus, God’s Child. We marvel at God drawing so near to be with us, alongside us, not above us or against us.
But it’s not a big jump from cradle to cross when you consider what a risk coming to us actually is, what a dangerous thing intimacy can be, how often close can be too close. Close enough to kill.
God knows it. Better than anyone. And still God comes.
O God, what are we to make of you, so willing to risk everything to be near us? Are we worth so much?
Mary Luti is a long time seminary educator and pastor, author of Teresa of Avila’s Way and numerous articles, and founding member of The Daughters of Abraham, a national network of interfaith women’s book groups.