Bible: Faith under stress

March 20 — Mark 14:26-31, 66-72; March 27 — Mark 16:1-8

Mar 14, 2016 by

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We cannot always predict how we will act under stress. The Apostle Peter declares he will never desert Jesus but before morning has three times denied he even knows Jesus, the Galilean, who is on trial before the chief priests.

Lois Y. Barrett


In the following chapter, the two Marys and Salome, who go to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body, are so afraid and distraught that they tell no one, at least initially, that the tomb is empty and that an angel has announced Jesus is risen from the dead.

Granted, the events they experience are traumatic: Judas’ betrayal of Jesus, their teacher; Jesus’ arrest; his trials, complete with trick questions and perjured witnesses; the mocking and physical abuse at the hands of the guards; the death sentence; execution by crucifixion; an open tomb with a missing body. It is almost too much to absorb.

Perhaps we can sympathize with Peter and the women at the tomb for their first responses to this trauma. Moreover, they make up for their failings later on. Peter realizes his sin, weeps bitterly and later becomes an ardent evangelist for the faith. The women evidently told the other disciples at some point, or we would not have their story recorded in the Gospel.

Mary Magdalene especially is honored in the early church, and in the Gospel of John she is the first witness to the resurrection, the first to experience the risen Christ.

These disciples are eventually able to get beyond their initial fears and reactions to trauma to become witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. In the Book of Acts, Peter’s early sermons announce that God raised him from the dead! Of this, we are witnesses.

To experience fear, paralysis or shock in the face of trauma is understandable. But is it inevitable? If not, can we reduce the likelihood of our acting like Peter, the Marys and Salome under stress? I have some suggestions.

We can talk to others about what we have experienced. It usually helps to talk through painful experiences with those who care about us. In the act of talking about the experience, we begin to work through what it means for us, our anger toward others, our self-incriminations, our seeing beyond the present trauma to what good might come out of this. The early disciples discovered that out of the tragedy of execution had come God’s vindication of Jesus by resurrection — and they told others about it.

We can rehearse. We can practice what we would do in such situations. True, we cannot always know what is going to happen, but often we have some idea and can plan. For example, I don’t believe that anyone automatically knows how to love enemies in a tough and urgent situation. But we can help each other rehearse what we would say or do when we are confronted by an antagonist.

The military doesn’t assume soldiers just know how to kill the enemy; they have to be trained. Why should we assume that followers of Jesus just know how to love the enemy in a stressful situation without any training or practice?

We can get rid of our sense of entitlement that everything should always go our way or that everyone should love us all the time. In fact, 1 Peter 4:12-19 assumes that Christians should expect to suffer: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”

When we suffer, we are sharing Christ’s sufferings. When others revile us for the name of Christ, we are blessed, because the Spirit of God is resting on us.

So what should we do, according to 1 Peter? “Entrust [ourselves] to a faithful Creator while continuing to do good.” We can trust that the God who raised Jesus from the dead will be with us in all circumstances and can forgive us even when we give in to our fears.

Lois Barrett is professor of theology and Anabaptist studies at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary. She lives in Wichita, Kan.

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