1 March 2015Mark 8:31-38
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (v. 34)
Psalm: Psalm 22
Today is the festival of St David, the patron saint of Wales, and given the importance of St David and his companions in spreading the Christian faith across Wales, it is highly appropriate that today's Gospel reading focuses on the call to discipleship.
Our passage follows on from Peter's confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30). Jesus has asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" to which they variously reply, John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. Then Jesus asks, "But who do you say that I am?" and Peter answers, "You are the Messiah" or (in Greek) "the Christ".
This episode is a turning point in Mark's account of Jesus' ministry. Previously Jesus had been attracting great crowds, drawn by his powerful preaching and miraculous healings. From now on, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem, the place of danger and death, and his ministry will increasingly face criticism and hostility.
One reason for this lies in the misunderstanding about what it means to be God's 'anointed one' or 'Messiah'. From today's passage it is evident that Peter too, despite his confession of faith, also shares in the confusion. Like others, he may have hoped for a mighty warrior king like David to usher in a new kingdom of peace and prosperity.
Instead, Jesus tells his disciples that he must face suffering, rejection and death at the hands of the religious authorities (verse 31). This is not what Peter was expecting and he tries to take Jesus aside. But Jesus rebukes him with those famous words, "Get behind me, Satan!" (v. 33). What's more, he goes on to say that the same suffering which awaits him, must also be faced by those who follow him; they too must be willing to take up their cross and to face the same death that he faces, if they wish to share with him in his glory (verses 34-38).
This is the first prediction Jesus makes of his death in Mark; it's also a pointer to the persecution that will soon face his followers (recounted in the Acts of the Apostles.) Yet from this shared suffering arises a conviction of faith and confidence in the risen presence of Christ that will sustain his Church across the generations to come.
- How comfortable are you with Jesus' challenge about the cost of discipleship?
- Are you too tempted like Peter to re-cast Jesus in a mould of your own making? What might be the reason behind this? And what might you do about this?
- What may be the cross that Christ is calling you to take up today, as part of your call to follow him?