We make heroes of winners: “loser” is an expression of contempt. It’s the Jesus who wins, who triumphs against the world, the flesh, and the devil, to whom we cling. It’s the Jesus who heals, feeds, and raises the dead who inspires us. Perhaps we prefer Christ the King crucifixes to those portraying the dying Jesus, or just plain crosses, forgetting that the cross is a noose, an electric chair, an inserted needle. What sort of religion uses a means of execution as its symbol?
Jesus takes his disciples to border country, to the very edge of the Holy Land. Situated at the base of Mt. Hermon, on the road to Tyre where Jesus healed the Arab woman’s child, the city was inhabited by Gentiles and was the site of a shrine to Pan. Rather than enter the city, Jesus seems to have used Mt. Hermon as a symbol. The plateau beneath the mountain is scattered with the remains of pagan shrines, some dedicated to Baal, whose cult we encounter in the Old Testament. Three springs flow from the mountain range, feeding the River Jordan.
|First reading and psalm: Prov. 1:20-33 • Ps. 19
Alternate: Wis. 7:26-8:1 or Isa. 50:4-9a
“Who do people think I am?” The disciples give the stock reply: some think you are Elijah, the prophet who confronted the Baal cult. Some think you are John the Baptist, who ministered by the banks of the River Jordan. “Who do you think I am?” Simon blurts out: “You are the Anointed One.” Jesus commends Simon Peter but goes on to predict his own suffering and death. Peter is shocked. He wants a Messiah who destroys the pagan occupiers and restores the kingdom. And so the rock, the human example of Mt. Hermon, is devastatingly rebuked. “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Jesus tells his followers that they must deny themselves, take up their crosses, lose their lives, and follow him for his sake and the sake of his good news. It is easy to regard these demands as a standard, one not normally attained except by extraordinary people, saints, or members of religious communities. Perhaps in Lent we may give up cheese or wine, but on the whole Anglicans are not well-known for self-denial, for embracing suffering for the sake of the gospel. Like St. Peter, we set our minds not on divine things but on human things.
Jesus is not annoyed with Peter. He has made him the rock, the foundation of the Church. Despite Peter’s later betrayal, once chosen, he continues until his martyrdom as the leader: flawed, sometimes weak, often vacillating, but always chosen. We too have been chosen when we were baptized. We live in a world littered with the evidences of pagan cults and human tragedy. We have been chosen to be rocks, immovable symbols of the living Jesus, from whom flows the waters of baptism and the remission of sins. We too are weak, flawed, vacillating people. Without the Messiah, we are unable to please the Father. And so we pray that God will enable us to overcome our follies as he directs and rules our lives.
O God, because without you we are not able to please you, mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Look It Up
Read Mark 8:27-38.
Think About It
What elements in your life stand in the way of your following Jesus?