By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 8:27-9:1
27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 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. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 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.” 1 And he said to them, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”
No one ever said the Gospel of Mark drags. In either of the other synoptic Gospels, today’s one lesson would be two, if not three, lessons. Surely Peter’s pronouncement of Jesus as Christ deserves its own spotlight, and if it’s paired with Jesus’ rebuke of Peter, well enough, but surely that ought to be in a different reading from Jesus’ teaching in the final paragraph. We need a breath, Mark! Some time to let all this sink in.
But we have the lesson we have, and, tempting as it is to break it apart, notice how the light of the beginning illumines that final paragraph because they are together.
Jesus says some pretty tough things at the end: deny yourself, take up your cross; if you would save your life, spend it, spend it all, hold nothing back for yourself. Now, imagine you’re among the multitude Jesus has called together to say this to, but not one of the disciples who heard Peter’s profession of faith. Who is this Jesus? What right does he have to tell you to give up your whole life? Perhaps you’ve heard a rumor that Jesus said he was going to be killed, and he seemed pretty determined about it. At this point, I imagine almost anyone would conclude Jesus is pretty crazy, and we should probably extricate ourselves from following him before we get into trouble.
Even without the benefit of our 20/20 hindsight of the Resurrection (and without it we are “most to be pitied,” 1 Cor. 15:9), it makes all the difference, when we hear Jesus’ claims on us, if we know first who Jesus is.
If today you hear Peter say, “You are the Christ,” and that truth, however difficult to understand, reverberates in your bones in the way that the deepest truths do, then when Jesus says, give up your life, you can only say, “Yes.” You know who you’re saying “yes” to, even if you don’t know what.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Barrackpore – The (united) Church of North India
Church of the Redeemer, Sarasota, Fla.