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As Christians we are challenged by the need to see Jesus clearly, and to hear him speaking honestly and directly to us, just as he was speaking to his disciples in Mark’s gospel (8:31-38), shortly after Peter had declared Jesus was the Messiah. 

This story is the first time in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus speaks of his anticipated suffering and death.   Peter has heard Jesus clearly state the revered elders of his faith, the chief priests and the scribes are going to reject him and he will be killed.  It is a powerful, statement, shocking in its simplicity and directness.  It is a reminder about who we should rely on and look to for help.  It is God where we start and where we finish and nowhere else. 

Jesus, the son of God, human and real and divine, will win the ultimate victory through suffering as it is described in the gospel story, but he is also telling us and showing us, his disciples today, that we must be willing to do the same. 

This passage is as radical and challenging today as it was 2,000 years ago and we would often not see or deal with the challenge.  The contemporary temptation for our times to believe instead in a prosperity gospel which has always been appealing, but such a distortion is truly the abuse of God’s good news. 

The leaders of our churches and of our culture, often look to the ‘church’ to support their cultural icons, their messages, politics, social beliefs and ideology.  Yet we are told repeatedly, Jesus was far more frequently talking to the outcast, the ignored, the lowly, the dispossessed and the powerless.  We read how God spoke with poor women and men, those without power or authority to ask them to lead God’s plans.  God spoke lovingly with Hagar, Hannah, Mary, Elizabeth, with the shepherds, the woman who was haemorrhaging, the lepers, those possessed by demons and compassionately, with the dead and their families – it’s a long list. God also called out the rules and restrictions laid on people to enable discrimination in the name of ethical behaviour, and highlighted our social, religious and political ideologies including racism in all generations.  It is time for us to hear this message again properly and to look at ourselves and wonder if we have truly seen Jesus for what and who he is and heard what he is saying. 

Jesus’ response to Peter’s horror and immediate instinctive request to Jesus not to say such a terrible prediction and his refusal to believe it or accept it, was completely the opposite to what Peter expected. Jesus said, in a response to all his disciples and included the crowd with them as he wanted to be very clear with everyone: 

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.  For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

This text Mark 8:31-38 points to a crucial divide between those disciples who are prepared to follow him on the way of suffering, and those who are not. 

Discipleship is not defined by what we are given in human terms, but by what we are willing to give.   So, I want to ask you, when was the last time you offered yourself to God without any caveats or clarifications.

This text reminds us of three things: discipleship is an alternative way to live life meaningfully based on self-denial and the giving up or rejection of our own self-centredness – our Lenten journey of deliberately choosing God’s way and not our way. 

Secondly, God takes this opportunity to point out the paradox God offers in our lives, one that offers astonishing satisfaction in life and the capacity to reach our full potential in God’s kingdom as the fullness of time draws near – in other words, if you want to save your life you will lose it; if you are willing to lose it, you will save it (v.35). 

Finally, we are confronted with the seriousness of the theological and faith consequences for the choices we make in our lives, the value we place on reciprocity and accountability because of our faith stance (v 36-38). 

When was the last time you left your comfortable tribe to follow God and do God’s work rather than supporting your local community, your local political, cultural, social and economic desires and benefits?  When was the last time you looked beyond your own self-centredness to ask what God might want and to acknowledge and recognise it may not be what you want?  The most confronting aspect of this text, is in this final verse:

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.  (Mark 8:38)

When God asks, what might be my answer?  Have I responded with love, empathy, kindness and without discrimination or hesitation to those who need my help, whatever the cost and whatever the rejection by my community or family?  What did I prioritise, what did I turn away from and when and where did I refuse to see God in the pain and suffering of another human being, to which I have contributed?

As I look at the present fault-lines in our society and across the world, I know in recent times we have encountered God’s work on issues of gender and sexuality, on issues of racism and discrimination with our first nations peoples, in our immigration policies, in our greed over housing, in our climate change challenges, and now we are confronted by war and division.  In all these situations if our response has been about protection for ourselves, fear of change affecting ourselves, and division to strengthen our own privileges, then we may have given God cause to be ashamed of us.  If our response has been and continues to be one of love, then I can hear God saying, thank you for carrying my cross, my beloved child.  Today I will see you in paradise.

The Lord be with you.

Reference

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds]. 2014. Feasting on the Gospels: Mark. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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