September 12, 2021
Sunday between September 11 and September 17 inclusive
Proper 19, Ordinary Time 24
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 8:27-38, The Message or Mark 8:27-38, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, this is an ideal passage for pondering the transition from summer to fall. The season of rest and recreation, of planting and tending is giving way to the season of harvesting. Within each year, and within each lifetime, come those moments when all that is past becomes the prologue for what is to come. (To paraphrase Wm. Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 2, Scene 1.)
The questions that arise in this passage are:
- What have we learned thus far from our travels with Jesus?
- Who is Jesus - really?
- What has all this prepared us for?
- And just what is it that lies ahead?
- What will be required us to actually produce the fruit from all this preparation?
- Are we ready for what lies ahead?
In verses 27-30, Jesus seeks confirmation from his inner group of disciples of what the gossip is about him - "Who do people say that I am?" And then of their assessment - "Who do you all say that I am?"
Malina and Rohrbaugh (see footnote below), offers some very helpful clarifications about these questions:
Viewed through (our) Western eyes, ... the assumption is that Jesus knows who he is and that he is testing the disciples to see whether or not they know as well. ...
viewed from ... Mediterranean understanding of personality, however, it is Jesus who does not know who he is, and it is the disciples from whom he must get this information.
It is also important to recall that in antiquity the question was not the modern one of the identity of an individual, but of the position and power that derived from an ascribed or acquired honor status.
The expected reply to a question about who someone is would have been to identify the family or place of origin (Saul of Tarsus, Jesus of Nazareth). Encoded in that information is all the information needed to place the person in question on the (publicly established, eternally unchangeable, rigorously defended)* honor scale.
(page 180) *Bracketed words have been added by D. Ewart.
When Peter says, "You are the Messiah," he confirms the authority / status / honour of Jesus to now take his show on the road to Jerusalem.
In a very real sense, up to now, Jesus has been working the small town stages to build up his street cred's. And having made a name for himself, he is now ready to tackle the big leagues - Jerusalem and the Roman authorities.
The rest of Chapter 8 and all of Chapters 9 and 10 are the road trip to the big city - and Jesus' teachings and actions are now all focused on preparing his followers for the actions that will happen there as Jesus brings his proclamation of the Kingdom of God into direct, face-to-face, confrontation with the Empire of Rome.
Poor old Peter. In verse 30, he calls Jesus, the Messiah. Three short verses later, Jesus is calling Peter, Satan.
Poor old Jesus. In verse 30, his core inner followers affirm that he has "got it;" that he has acquired the authority / honour to undertake the real purpose of his mission. Two short verses later, Peter reveals that they are still mis-understanding and/or unwilling to follow the logic of what he has been teaching them.
The prediction of his suffering and rejection by the religious authorities is actually not rocket science, nor does it require any special divinity on Jesus' part. Given the exalted status now being attributed to Jesus by the people, and given his challenge to the authority of the elders, chief priests and scribes, everyone alive then would know that this could only end badly.
The prediction of his resurrection is a different matter. That adds a whole new, completely novel twist.
As the one who proclaimed the new honour status of Jesus in Verse 30, Peter is quite unnerved by Jesus' teaching in Verse 31. In Verse 30, Peter was not only affirming a high honour status for Jesus, but was also affirming his loyalty to Jesus. And as such, Peter was also anticipating participating in sharing the rewards of Jesus' honour as Messiah. Although the teaching in Verse 31 is only about what will happen to "the Son of Man," Peter and the other disciples know that their loyalty to Jesus demands that they share this fate - just as they had earlier expected to share a quite different outcome. Peter would be surprised, shocked and made fearful by Jesus' teaching in Verse 31.
Peter rebukes Jesus. Jesus rebukes Peter. Calls Peter - or at least Peter's rebuke - Satan. That is, Tempter, Snake in the Garden, Introducer of Hesitation, Mixer of Motivations, Flaunter of Red Herrings, Side-Tracker of Mission, Setter of One's Mind on Human Things. Well, fear of pain and death will do that to most people, and Peter was no exception.
Having spoken to the disciples in Verse 31, Jesus now calls "the crowd" and teaches them explicitly what Peter had understood implicitly before: Those who want to be followers of Jesus must follow him! That is, they must go with him where he is going. They must share the consequences of his way. They, and we, must find the courage to put our money where our mouth is; to be true to our values, and to make choices that are worthy of the Gospel, knowing that pain, loss and death will be an unavoidable consequence.
In a very ordinary, middle class, Canadian way, it is actually very easy to understand what Jesus means by losing our life while we have been busy building it. Career burn-outs, mid-life crises, and marriage break downs all testify to that.
But just exactly how do we turn that around and "lose" our life so that we don't just lose it, but get it back? The key, I think, is to not mentally skip over the crucial qualification: "for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel."
Okay, so just how does one lose one's life for Jesus' sake and for the sake of the gospel? That, I think, takes a life-time to answer, and is best done in a community of friends seeking the same thing for themselves. But at a minimum, it means recognizing that there is no pain-free way to live, and finding our life will mean saying, "No," to false hopes for happiness.
Verse 38 kind of returns to poor Peter since the opposite of loyalty to someone is being ashamed of them. Peter's earlier rebuke of Jesus broke his loyalty to Jesus; done openly and in public, such a rebuke would have shamed Jesus. Jesus' comments here are not a threat; they are a simple statement of logical consequences.
There are some significant challenges in this passage for those of us who seek to be faithful / loyal followers of Jesus. Especially for those of us in established ministries.
This text challenges us to see everything that we have acquired to date as mere preparation for what is to come; preparation that we must be completely willing to lose in order to save our purpose for being here at all.
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 180-182; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See link below.
Mark 8:27-38 (NRSV)
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28 And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29 He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 8:27-38 (The Message)
27 Jesus and his disciples headed out for the villages around Caesarea Philippi. As they walked, he asked, "Who do the people say I am?"
28 "Some say 'John the Baptizer,' " they said. "Others say 'Elijah.' Still others say 'one of the prophets.' "
29 He then asked, "And you—what are you saying about me? Who am I?"
Peter gave the answer: "You are the Christ, the Messiah."
30 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. 31 He then began explaining things to them: "It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive." 32 He said this simply and clearly so they couldn't miss it.
But Peter grabbed him in protest. 33 Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. "Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works."
34 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, "Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You're not in the driver's seat; I am. Don't run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I'll show you how. 35 Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. 36 What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? 37 What could you ever trade your soul for?
38 "If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I'm leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you'll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendor of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels."
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.