Friday, March 29, 2013

Despised and Rejected

And He began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
Mark 8:31

The two of us sat in the elementary school principal’s office awaiting our doom. Convicted of fighting on the playground, all that remained was our sentencing. It hadn’t been much of a fight. Chris had charged at me, and we wrestled around a bit before our fifth-grade teacher broke us up and led us away like prisoners of war. Silent and motionless, I sat down beside Chris, now wrestling with my guilt. The whole thing was my fault.

Chris was an outsider, a strange and lanky kid who kept a safe distance from grade-school society. He mistrusted us, and for good reason. He spoke in a screechy voice, and whenever he answered a question in class, we erupted in laughter. I think even the teacher had to work at keeping a straight face. Chris was the sad clown of our class. His reality was our greatest fear: being rejected. Chris was alone. 

That day on the playground, I had teased Chris. I wasn’t looking for a fight - I was only fighting to fit in. Though I sat with the cool kids at lunch, I suspected that I wasn’t truly one of them. But I knew I had it better than Chris, and I wanted things to stay that way. So like the others, I teased him. Chris, on the other hand, couldn’t have cared less about knocking me off the social ladder. At that moment, all he cared about was knocking me off my feet.

Now we were both in trouble, though only one of us deserved it. I glanced over at Chris as he stared ahead solemnly. Once the principal arrived and asked us what happened, Chris would have every reason to expose me as the villain. I was afraid of the truth. I was ashamed of the truth. Suddenly, Chris was the one with all the power.

I began to attempt a polite conversation with Chris. I asked him about sports, video games, anything I could think of that might soften his anger toward me. Chris was a stone wall, silent and skeptical. I kept talking. Finally, Chris opened his mouth to speak only to declare that he didn’t trust me. There was nothing else I could do. I told him I was sorry. I was sorry I started the fight. I was sorry that I had teased him. I was wrong.

Chris relaxed a little, and he slowly began to respond to my conversation attempts. I discovered that Chris was not so different than me. He really loved Nintendo. He would rather wield a sword than a gun. He had a vivid imagination full of dreams and stories and other worlds. As we talked, I saw a person whom I actually liked better than all of the kids I was trying to impress. I don’t remember what happened when the principal finally questioned us, but he interviewed two different boys than the teacher had ushered to the office. In those brief moments, we had become friends. 

Chris and I spent the next two years together fighting the forces of evil on the same playground where we had once been enemies. We battled dragons and mad scientists in our video games and backyards. One summer, Chris’ family took me across America with them in their RV camper. We shared experiences I will never forget.

I wish I could say that the story ends there with a happy friendship, but junior high school has a way of magnifying the social pressures of childhood. A new school, a new start, and a new social landscape suddenly lay before me. This seventh grade year would shape my reputation for the next six years of my school life, I thought. I began to make new friends who seemed to know how to navigate this new and treacherous environment. But what about Chris? He would never be able to keep up in this rapidly evolving world. The light-weight rejection I bore with Chris in elementary school was becoming a heavy burden I was no longer willing to bear. I abandoned Chris, and left him to face his perils alone.

When we see Jesus on the cross, the first thing we notice is His physical agony. He has been whipped, ripped to shreds, tender flesh of hands and feet nailed to wooden beams. The weight of His body tears flesh as He hangs from the tree. He screams. Yet before all of this, when Jesus describes to His disciples the horror of what will happen to Him, He makes a point to include, not just the physical torment, but the fact that He will be rejected. He will be rejected by an angry mob that will choose to release a convicted criminal while shouts of “Crucify Him!” hurl toward Jesus like murderous stones. He will be rejected by the elders and chief priests and religious leaders, the most respected individuals in His culture. He will even be betrayed, denied, and abandoned by His own disciples, into whom He has poured His life for the last three years. Still, the darkest hour for Jesus will be when even God the Father turns His face away from Jesus in His dying moments. 

Have you ever known anything like this kind of rejection? Do you know what it feels like to be despised and scorned by a crowd? Do you know what it feels like to be personally condemned by the most respected men or women in our culture? Maybe you do know what it feels like to be betrayed or abandoned by a friend, but what about all of your friends at once and when you need them most? Do you or I really know what it's like, even for one moment, to be utterly rejected and forsaken by God? 

Jesus knew the pain and loss of all these forms of rejection, and He knew them all at the same time. He anticipated the pain of physical torture beyond our comprehension, yet as He looked toward the cross, He could not overlook of the pain of the rejection He would face. He was despised and rejected, all alone in the dark expanse of a universe He had created. Jesus knows rejection. He knows those who face rejection. Jesus knows and understands Chris.

Christ tells us, “If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Taking up our own cross to follow Jesus means, among other things, that we also will face rejection. "If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18). Let us never be surprised or offended when faithfulness to Jesus leads to rejection by the world. Jesus is plain that this will happen. It is the way of the cross.

When we face rejection, it is never for our self-pity. As He carried His cross, Jesus told the women who mourned His suffering, “Do not weep for Me” (Luke 23:28). The way of the cross is not for the victim, but for the wounded victor. 

In our own rejection by the world, we have something beautiful to offer to the world. Through the cross, we are in a special position to love and serve those who are themselves despised and rejected. We can go beyond the margins to the outsider, to the strange and the diseased. Being rejected already, why should we fear rejection any longer? Rather than fight rejection, we can suffer with the rejected and broken. We can offer the hope and healing of Jesus who suffered for us. We can pray. We can listen. We can touch. We can adopt. We can befriend.

“If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me."

Chris, I’m sorry. I was wrong.


  1. Enjoyed this post. Have been here: "Though I sat with the cool kids at lunch, I suspected that I wasn’t truly one of them".

    1. Thanks, Julie. Honestly, I'm glad we weren't.