Take power away from politicians,
And see what’s left.
Take money away from the rich,
And see what’s left.
Take authority away from clergy,
And see what’s left.
Take knowledge away from intellectuals,
And see what’s left.
What’s left after those things are taken away is what they truly are.
Take soul away from me.
Take love away from me.
Take justice away from me.
Even so, if I still am alive,
Even so, if I still live on as though nothing has happened,
Who am I?
Who truly am I?
"What’s Left" – Rohae Park
Today, this simple poem invites us to a mindful reflection on our lives with some in-depth questions: “What is at the core of our life? What is the essence, the sine qua non, without which we are not truly alive and without which we cannot live on?” Here, this poet suggests a simple practice for us to come up with certain answers. I think we can call this practice the practice of imaginary deduction. It’s like we imagine taking something away from us, something seemingly significant and crucial to our life. And as we get rid of those things one by one, we will get to the point where we can tell what’s really indispensable to us among what’s left. At that imaginary point, we may find what matters most in our lives, the essential threads that make up our true selves among all the other threads that are just woven into the complicated fabric of life. For this poet, he writes, such things are soul, love, and justice. How noble he is! Then, for us, what are those essential things? What makes us truly be ourselves?
In today’s Gospel story, Jesus invites his disciples to do a similar practice. He asks them to take human things away from their sight and see clearly what’s most essential to their lives. On the way to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Then, Peter confesses, “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29). The Messiah…this Hebrew word, means God’s chosen and anointed one. After long years of exile and oppression in their history, the people of Israel eagerly looked for the restoration of glorious and powerful David’s kingdom. And they believed that God would finally fulfill God’s promise by anointing a powerful leader, a messiah. Peter also believed in this promise of God. So, as he followed Jesus and witnessed him do miracles with divine power, he became so confident about Jesus being that Messiah. And that’s why he can easily give this answer to Jesus, “You are the Messiah.”
But see Jesus’ response to Peter’s answer. He talks about the suffering, rejection, and death that he will have to go through, not the victory, dominion, and glory that a messiah is supposed to achieve. Peter cannot understand this. “What kind of messiah is he?” Or more honestly, he was asking to himself, “What benefit can I get by following this man?” “What good can he do for me?” No…for Peter, Jesus shouldn’t die like that. So he takes Jesus aside and even rebukes him, saying: “What on earth does a messiah undergo such things?” Then, Jesus rejects Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things. If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:33-34).
Jesus knows that even though Peter gives him the right answer, “You are the Messiah,” Peter’s heart is full of human things so he misunderstands what’s truly essential to his life. To this Peter, Jesus may have asked, “Take your human desire for power and honor, dominion and glory away from you. Take your misled expectation and selfish ambition away from you. Take all those human things away from you. In short, deny yourself! Then, see what’s left. What’s left in you? Is my cross left in you? Is my love still alive in you? Am I still there in your life as your Savior? Then, set your mind on those divine things that I place in your life without any price…Jesus may have asked Peter like this. And I am sure, if Jesus were here with us, he would have asked us the same.
Today we are celebrating Rally Sunday as we begin our church’s new season of ministry and as we start our new discipleship and educational programs. But for a fresh start of our church and our lives, what do we need to do first? I think we should do some cleaning first…especially, a cleaning of our hearts. For this spiritual cleaning, we need to take human things away from us, our egos, our will, our pride, our judgment…So let’s take those things away from us and then, see what’s left… see what’s left. Is Jesus Christ still left in our hearts as our Savior and as our friend? Is his cross standing and shining with God’s love and grace somewhere in our hearts? Then, follow him and take up the cross. Yes, we can start from there, again and again, as all the history of Jesus’ followers, the history of God’s kingdom started right from there. Jesus and his cross…do you believe that our life and ministry hinge on this core, this essence? Jesus and his cross, nothing else can be the essence of our faith, our life, our ministry. Do you believe it? As our life gets complicated and messy, let’s take human things away from us and hold on to the core again. As our ministry gets burdensome, let’s take human things away from us and start again from Jesus and his cross. Let’s clear our sight and be very sure about the essence of our life, the essence of who we truly are, the essence of whom we are called to be.
“Take soul away from me / Take love away from me / Take justice away from me / Even so, if I still am alive / Even so, if I still live on as though nothing has happened / Who am I? / Who truly am I?” As soon as I finished reading this poem for the first time, in my mind, I continued writing the next stanza following the poem. “Take Jesus Christ away from me / Take his love and grace away from me / Take his cross away from me / Even so, if I still am alive / Even so, if I still live on as though nothing has happened / Who am I? / Who truly am I?” Sisters and brothers in Christ, as we embark on our new journey of our ministry, I hope and pray that we all can strive to be the true disciples of Jesus Christ. Let us deny ourselves and set our minds on divine things, the essential things for we know that without Jesus, we are nothing, and without his cross, we lose the purpose of our life. And let us take up our own cross and follow Jesus in our daily lives. May our loving Jesus Christ and his wonderful cross be in the midst of our heart and guide our journey of faith always. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim