Most of this Sunday’s lectionary Gospel is making its second appearance this year:
- The 2nd Sunday of Lent gave us Mark 8:31-38
- The 24th Sunday of Ordinary Time has Mark 8:27-38.
(Mark 8:1-26 is left out in the cold, alas. I consider this an enormous loss. I’ll have to write on it some day — maybe it will be Tuesday Trepidation since the Monday Meditations are for what the lectionary leaves in.)
The thing to do would be to consider how verses 27-30 shape what follows. Back in Lent I wasn’t yet writing my Monday Meditations, so I’ve not previously considered verses 31-38 on their own. Still, I’ll give it a try.
The passage breaks down into three little scenes:
(1) 27-30: Jesus asks who people say he is; Peter says Jesus is the Messiah.
(2) 31-33: Jesus predicts the Son of Man will suffer, die, and rise; Peter rebukes Jesus so Jesus rebukes Peter.
(3) 34-38: Jesus says that his followers must lay down their lives and pick up crosses to follow him; lose self to gain all, or keep self and lose all.
An alternate structure
There is a logical thread connecting the three parts. In a sense, finding the thread means breaking down the units of the narrative differently.
(1) 27-29: The world says various things, but Peter rightly says Jesus is the Christ.
(2) 30-31: Jesus commands secrecy, but teaches openly on the coming suffering, death, and rising of the Christ.
(3) 32-34: When Peter rebukes Jesus for this open teaching, Jesus rebukes Peter, then makes a speech to the crowd about following Christ in the way of death.
(4) 35-38: Jesus goes on to discuss the economy of discipleship — keep your life and lose it vs. give your life (for Jesus) and gain it.
I have no idea whether that little structural analysis does anybody else any good, but I like it.
Peter rebukes Jesus
The oddity in the text is Peter’s rebuke of Jesus. Mark does not actually tell us the specifics. What did Peter find objectionable?
- Is the problem that Jesus said the Messiah must suffer, die, and rise?
- Or is the problem that he taught this so openly? Like, “Jesus, how come you just said we couldn’t tell that you are the Messiah and now you are teaching openly about this?”
(It is far clearer in Matthew: there Peter objects to Jesus’ teaching that Jesus himself must go to Jerusalem, suffer, die, and rise. It is about Jesus, not Mark’s theoretical “Son of Man” — and Peter says this must not happen to Jesus.)
The economy of the kingdom
To me, though, the really interesting thing is Jesus’ emphasis from 33 onward about the differences between our common earthly understanding and the economy of God.
33. Jesus rebukes Peter for setting his mind on “earthly things” rather than on “divine things.”
34. Jesus defines the life of his followers as a journey toward death. They must take up their own crosses.
Jesus hadn’t gone to the cross or even hinted that he himself would die on a cross. But he says that following him means having a cross of your own.
Every follower of Jesus has a cross with their name on it.
You think anybody in the Roman Empire didn’t know what that meant?
Once you pick up the instrument of your own death, where do you go? You follow him. That’s where he’s going.
But what does he mean by that?
A parallelism like Hebrew poetry
35. There’s a little math problem to do. It is kingdom math in the form of a Hebrew style poetic parallelism:
(A) For those who want to save their life
(B) will lose it,
(B’) and those who lose their life
(C) for my sake,
(C’) and for the sake of the gospel,
(A’) will save it.
Ah, but it is not so simple.
A paradox would be simpler: give away your life, anywhere, for anything, and gain it.
But Jesus isn’t some New Age guru trusting in the generosity of the universe.
The little addition, marked “C” in the second half of the parallelism is key.
In the economy of his kingdom, what brings you life is when your life is given for him.
36-37. It seems at first like Jesus is going to give the parallelism another easy turn:
(A) For what will it profit them to gain the whole world
(B) and forfeit their life?
But then he doesn’t play it out to the end. Instead he assumes that we have already been given our life — and that we might want to offer a bit of gratitude.
Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?
Jesus rebukes Peter — again
38. In the end it looks like Jesus returns to his rebuke of Peter who was ashamed of Jesus’ open teaching:
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.
So we are left with a text that has two things to say to us in our post-modern generation. Both things are about our relation to Jesus himself.
1. Finding life
Finding life requires more than finding Jesus, and more than pouring out our lives in service.
Finding life requires a life poured out in service to Jesus.
2. Finding acceptance
Drawing near to Jesus, and finding acceptance, requires a humble stance toward both his person and his words.
There are so many ways to stumble on Jesus.
- I suspect we often shield our eyes from what he is actually like in the Gospels. In the quiet of our imagination we recast him according to our own preferences.
- And how very little time we spend actually listening to his words…
Lord, let me never be ashamed of you or your words. Let me see you, hear you, know you as you are. Soften the hardened places of resistance that I may love and serve you with all my being.
Hoping for a way to reboot your prayer life this Fall? My online class on the lessons in prayer by the most influential 16th century reformers is coming soon…
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