18 February 2011

Mark 8:24 - 9:1

"What will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" (v. 36)


Having spelled out what the future holds for himself (verse 31) Jesus now states what will be involved in following him, addressing not only current disciples but potential recruits from the crowd. The startling image in verse 34 is of taking up the wooden cross-beam that condemned criminals (non-citizens and slaves) were required to carry to the place of execution under the Roman Empire. It was a symbol of public shame and the certainty of agonising death. While there were cases of actual crucifixion in the early Church, here almost certainly it is intended as a challenging metaphor for the hardships involved in following Jesus, spelled out in verses 35-38.

Those hardships are not identified in detail. They may take many forms, including what we now think of as martyrdom,. But there is also the need to deny oneself personal gain and be open about one's allegiance, even in the face of hostility, if one is truly to follow Jesus' teaching and example. Of course there is a play upon the word "life", on the one hand staying alive, on the other preserving one's true self and integrity.

Verses 8:38 and 9:1 open up a picture of the final judgement at which all must answer. Adultery in the everyday sense is not singled out in verse 38 for particular censure. Rather "adulterous" is used, as often in the Old Testament, to characterise a people who have turned away from the true God to worship false gods (egJeremiah 3:1-19).

Yet verse 9:1 remains a puzzle. There is evidence that many first-generation Christians expected the end of the world in their own lifetime. Did Jesus also expect it to come soon? Some interpreters think the reference is to the resurrection of Jesus or to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, or even to the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-8).

To Ponder

Are there challenges to self-denial that you are evading at present? What are they? And why are you evading them?

Should all Christians expect to be persecuted? Is it a sign of failure if they are do not? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Brian Beck

Brian Beck is a Methodist minister, now retired, and a former president and secretary of the Methodist Conference. A large part of his ministry has been spent in theological education, both in Limuru, Kenya, and in Cambridge, England..