Sunday 25 February 2018

Bible Book:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 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.” (vv. 34-35)

Mark 8:31-38 Sunday 25 February 2018

Psalm: Psalm 22


I wonder whether there could be a more apt Scripture reading for Lent? In today’s passage Jesus speaks very frankly with his disciples about what the coming days will hold for him personally – suffering, rejection, death … but also resurrection. For some of them – Peter in particular – it is too much to bear. Peter seems to be of the view that Jesus is wrong – that events cannot and must not turn out the way he describes. Perhaps Peter is simply scared and worried, and does not want Jesus to face these terrible things. Perhaps he has a different view of the role the Messiah will play – one of glory and victory, not shame and death. Whatever his reasons, Peter begins to argue with Jesus, to “rebuke” him (v. 32).

Peter’s rebuke is met in kind as Jesus cries out “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 33). It seems that Jesus will not suffer this nonsense. Whatever Peter’s motivation, however well-intentioned he may be, his rebuke of Jesus amounts to nothing less than a denial of the reality that lies ahead. And to deny such a reality is to undermine it, to work against this path and what might be achieved through it. This is perhaps why Jesus’ response seems so extreme.

Up to this point, Jesus has been speaking alone with his disciples, but now he widens the circle, calling the crowd to join them as he speaks about the true cost of discipleship – and what a cost! Jesus paints a picture of an all-or-nothing commitment, a challenge that will lead not only to the cross, but also to life: one cannot be gained without the other. And I find myself echoing the words of Jesus’ disciples from John’s Gospel: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (John 6:60). With his words, Jesus challenges any kind of concept of a ‘comfortable Christianity’ – the choice to follow Christ has real and challenging consequences, and he wants people to go in with their eyes open.

But we must be careful not to take this requirement of suffering out of context. For Mark’s Gospel, the suffering experienced by Jesus’ followers is caused by those who work against Jesus’ mission – religious and political leaders who oppress those seeking truth. And their suffering is limited – by the imminent return of the Son of Man. As noted in the New Interpreter’s Study Bible (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2003), “Mark’s emphasis on suffering does not provide a basis for Christian masochism, but instead a hope for future liberation”.

To Ponder

  • What do you think a ‘messiah’ should look like? How does Jesus compare?
  • What do you find most challenging about Jesus’ teaching on discipleship? Why?
  • During Lent, is there something you should ‘lose’ that you might follow Christ more closely? What is it?
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