The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 24th Ordinary (Day 4)

Mark 8:27-38

27 Jesus and his disciples went into the villages near Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”
28 They told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, and still others one of the prophets.”
29 He asked them, “And what about you? Who do you say that I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” 30 Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then Jesus began to teach his disciples: “The Human One must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and the legal experts, and be killed, and then, after three days, rise from the dead.” 32 He said this plainly. But Peter took hold of Jesus and, scolding him, began to correct him. 33 Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, then sternly corrected Peter: “Get behind me, Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.”
34 After calling the crowd together with his disciples, Jesus said to them, “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. 35 All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me and because of the good news will save them. 36 Why would people gain the whole world but lose their lives? 37 What will people give in exchange for their lives? 38 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words in this unfaithful and sinful generation, the Human One will be ashamed of that person when he comes in the Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

I’ve heard it said that we all want to serve God, as long as it is in the role of advisers! No better example of that than Peter’s reaction to his own insight that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (“Christ”).

The problem was our aspiring to serve Jesus as advisers is that we are usually not on the same page Jesus is. His playbook or strategy handbook is one we have read but not understood. So our advice comes from elsewhere, other playbooks or strategy handbooks on living for God and serving God’s kingdom.

The main point his disciples did not grasp, and rejected once they did, is the same one we ourselves don’t really want to countenance either. And this point, this one point at which we are so resistant to Jesus’ agenda and so quick to supply alternatives to, this one point at which Jesus’ makes himself an example for us, is the cross. John Howard Yoder writes: “Only at one point, only on one subject – but then consistently, universally – is Jesus our example: in his cross.”

Jürgen Moltmann expands on this:

“The God of success and the apathetic man of action completely contradict what we find at the core of Christianity: the suffering God and the loving, vulnerable man. On the other hand, the crucified God contradicts the God of success and his idol-worshippers all the more totally. He contradicts the officially optimistic society. He also contradicts the revolutionary activism of the sons of the old establishment. ‘The old rugged cross’ contradicts the old and the new triumphal theology (theologia gloria) which we produce in the churches in order to keep pace with the transformations of an activist and rapidly changing society.”

When we believe and act by our “satanic mind” (as Peter does here), we seek glory, triumph, ease and comfort, abhor pain, suffering, weakness, and death, exalt power and scorn the abased and abused. We cannot (and will not) imagine that God’s way is the way of a cross. And we betray Jesus is the most fundamental way possible.

Jesus saw the cross looming ahead of him because he knew God’s will and way cut across the grain of the values and visions of a fallen world. Up for them was down for Jesus. And he came to set all things right again. He was not naïve enough, however, to imagine he could do this at no cost. The cross symbolizes the character and cost of faithfulness in a twisted and broken world. And it is to that cross and a vocation of cross-bearing that Jesus calls his followers.

Jesus rebuke of Peter here both highlights the condemnation of such fecklessness and also offers hope (for him and for us). “Get behind me, Satan,” he tells Peter. Now all through his gospel Mark has used “follow” language for discipleship. In telling Peter to “get behind” him, Jesus identifies the posture of faithlessness (not being “behind” me following him on the way) and yet holds the door open for Peter to return (“Get behind me”) to following. Jesus is not casting Peter out of the discipleship band; he is, rather, telling Peter to get back where he belongs among the others following Jesus wherever he goes.

We would all rather a different world and a different vocation. And one day we shall have it. But for now, until that day, the way of the cross is the path for us. We resist it, to be sure, and long for the way of glory and success. We join Peter moving out from “behind” Jesus and demand of him something easier and more palatable. And he rebukes us as he did Peter when we hear his words again from this text.

More than thirty years ago Ken Medema released a wonderful album “Kingdom in the Streets.” One song off that album, “Those Love Songs,” speaks just to this conflict between following Jesus and stepping out from behind him and giving into our “satanic” mind and desires. After crooning about the love and beauty and comfort Christ (supposedly) calls us to, Medema sings the following (or something close to it – I could find the album with the lyrics on it):

“Then I read the book again
and the story didn’t come out that way
You’ll be sent to the hungry and homeless
You’ll be one with the down and out
brother to the poor, sister to the outcast
that’s what your life will be about.”

That’s what Jesus’ life was about and why see knew it ended on a cross. Yet he also knew this way of the cross was living with the grain of the universe and that somehow, someway, God would triumph over all that opposed and resisted him through this way of life.

And Jesus has been trying to teach the rest of us that for more than 2000 years now!


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