Homily for 9.16.12
MARK 8:27-35 (see below)
THE TURN OF THE GOSPEL
The Lectionary Gospel reading for this LORD’s Day brings us to the pivotal division of St. Mark’s rendering of GOD’s movement through the human being, Messiah Jesus. That is, the Almighty’s movement to reclaim his good-world-now-fallen into greed and hate and death.
Slowly and painfully the disciples begin to come to an understanding of just who Jesus is -- the Jewish Messiah, and what that truly means -- suffering, death and resurrection. (R.T.France) Point by point and moment by moment St. Mark has been offering clues to the disciples (and to us) of Jesus’ true identity, but now we read Jesus’ explicit confrontation with his most intimate followers as to their understanding.
To help his followers discern his identity and his mission, Jesus first quiets them away from the pressing crowds. To do this they trek north to Caesarea Philippi, a long distance from Jerusalem, the place toward which their journey will very soon take a very sober turn. And...
Along the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" They said in reply, "John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets."
So far so good. The people see Jesus as a prophet; his words and his works aligning him with those other Preacher-Poets (Brueggemann) found in the Hebrew Bible. Like them, Jesus came to the elect people of GOD with a particular message from their GOD. This message was both a warning concerning the present direction she was traveling and an urging to take a different direction before it was too late. (N.T.Wright)
But, what is this all to Jesus’ identity? Everything, of course.
Next comes Jesus’ crucial question as he zero’s in on his own follower’s apprehension of who he is:
And he asked them,"But who do you say that I am?" Peter said to him in reply, "You are the Christ." Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
There it is! There is the powerful declaration of faith made my Peter, Petros the Rock, as spokesman for the entire group! “You are Israel’s Messiah, the promised one, the deliver.”
As we shared in last week’s homily, Jesus understands his task as Messiah to be the embodiment of Israel’s GOD suddenly coming to his temple (Malachi 3:1), therefore the deeper meaning of his miracles and exorcisms are signs that GOD’s promised kingdom has finally come! YHWH has returned to his people in the person of this young Jewish prophet!
Then, something happens. St. Mark tells us:
He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. He spoke this openly.
Jesus changes his teaching; he changes his message. He begins to present his followers with the inevitable truth that the course of Messiahship always meant that the chosen One of Israel must come to a final show-down with the powers of empire and the powers of darkness. And that this show-down would mean Messiah must suffer and die.
This, of course, brings the disciples up-short. Messiah? Killed? How could this make any sense? How could one follow a dead Messiah? How could a dead Messiah fulfill the promises of GOD to his people, the promises that included the vindication of the elect, the revealing of true and faithful Israel, and the booting-out of those contemptible Romans? For this to be accomplished how could Jesus be killed?
First, we know that challengers to the accepted, given power in Jesus’ day were summarily killed. In this regard the suffering fate of John the Baptizer had to be an ever-present reality in the mind of Jesus. As N.T. Wright reminds us:
“The fearless prophet [John], opposed and perhaps killed by the Jewish authorities to whom he had spoken the word of YHWH, was a model which can never have been far from the self-understanding of the prophet from Nazareth.” (Jesus And The Victory of God, pg. 579)
But, second, Jesus had come to understand himself as embodying the suffering servant of Isaiah 40-55 and Zechariah 9-14 and Daniel 11-12, a truly remarkable theological move on his part. And it is this suffering-servant motif that guides both his words and his works, and which prepares his understanding of the unexpected role of suffering and death awaiting Messiah in the seat of power.
Understandably, Peter reacts, again probably speaking for the whole group:
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples, rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
How Peter’s words must have stung Jesus’ ears, those ears which only moments before had heard such a clear and resolute confession. And, how Jesus’ words of response must have stung Peter’s ears, those ears so familiar with the Masters’s voice of confidence.
But this is not all, for Jesus ups the ante and confronts them not only with his future but with their own settled fate as well:
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it."
So, not only would the Son of Man suffer and die, but if there would be any who wanted to follow Jesus, truly follow, they too must suffer and die. Not exactly an easy sell for a advertisement/recruitment plan.
THE TURN OF DISCIPLESHIP
Before them, therefore, Jesus truthfully portrays what it means to follow him to Jerusalem, for it is not only his life that is on the line, it is not just his suffering and death in view, but it is all their lives as well; it is their suffering and death.
And, it is ours...
Suddenly, we see what this following Jesus means to his disciples. It may involve going to heaven when we die, but that is not primarily what Jesus calls his followers to be and accomplish, some sort of passive waiting for the world to implode under the weight of its own selfishness and hatred, while the true believer waits to be rescued.
No, like Jesus, we travel to heart of darkness, to the heart of lostness, to the heart of the broken world, and like the Master we absorb the suffering of a world at war with itself. Notice the pattern Jesus speaks, as many other commentators have before:
The destination of the disciple, then and now, is the same as the destination of Messiah, Jesus. To follow Jesus means he leads us to the denial of our privileges and gains and status and self-understanding. It means we walk away from all that we are, and offer ourselves as King Jesus’ agents of a new understanding of humanity and new understanding of GOD’s people. It means we suffer through the sacrificial giving of ourselves for the rescue of others, and for the life of this broken world.
Do you doubt this understanding? St. Paul didn’t. As you would expect, his description of the movement of Jesus is the same as what Jesus here teaches. Notice this passage from in Philippians 2:
5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
The self-emptying and humbling of Jesus leads to the obedience of death and finally the ultimate vindication found in resurrection. But, notice also, this so much more that seeking to gain someone’s mental assent to a certain set of religious doctrines, as important as that is, or seeking to give someone a promise of eternal bliss, as nice as this sounds.
In fact, even Paul, himself, followed the same pattern of suffering, loss and new life:
This is the true pattern of discipleship; this is what it means to follow Jesus. This is power behind the call of Jesus when he says, “Follow thou me.”
Jesus and his disciples set out
for the villages of Caesarea Philippi.
Along the way he asked his disciples,
"Who do people say that I am?"
They said in reply,
"John the Baptist, others Elijah,
still others one of the prophets."
And he asked them,
"But who do you say that I am?"
Peter said to him in reply,
"You are the Christ."
Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He began to teach them
that the Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed, and rise after three days.
He spoke this openly.
Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
At this he turned around and, looking at his disciples,
rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan.
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do."
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
"Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake
and that of the gospel will save it."