Mark 8:22-38 | Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Get Behind Me: A Different Kind of Roller Coaster
Lectionary Project—Part of an ongoing three year project of weekly posts based on the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary. A study in practical theology.
“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus, and that’s when things go sideways for Peter.
“You are the Messiah,” Peter says. It’s the right answer, but in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus rewards Peter with a stern warning not to tell anyone. (Over in Matthew’s telling of the same event, Peter gets a blessing—Matthew 16:17-19—an interesting addition to Mark’s account.)
Then Jesus begins explaining about getting himself killed, and Peter tries to talk some sense to him. It doesn’t go well. Jesus rejects him and calls him Satan for his trouble.
Stunned by seeing Peter rebuked, now they hear Jesus describe the inverted value system of the Kingdom of God—denying oneself as gain, pursuit of wealth as spiritual poverty. To be human is to resist the divine. Then Jesus calls a crowd to him and starts talking about carrying one’s own cross. These are people who have first hand experience with Romans and crucifixion. The speech is less than inspiring.
Maybe his words ring true for them. Jesus isn’t giving them the happily ever after version. He’s telling them the hard truths: we sometimes live difficult lives and carry heavy burdens. The Gospel he is preaching is no easy path, no promise of prosperity. He doesn’t even ask them whether there is a cross lying within reach. He assumes they each have one and know where to find it. Take up your cross, he tells them, and none of them ask where it is.
Mark, ever mindful of the order of his story, puts this passage just after one of the oddest miracles in all of the Gospels, the miracle of the second touch. A blind man is brought to be healed, and Jesus touches his eyes and asks what he sees. People, says the man, but they are misshapen, like trees. It sounds as though Jesus does not get it right the first time and has to touch the man again, adjust the miracle, tweak it a bit. If we think the story is about Jesus performing miracles, it can make us uneasy.
It is a story about taking a second look, about trying to see clearly or at least about having the sense to know when we do not. Taken that way, it is the perfect introduction to what happens next.
Peter and the other disciples had a pretty good picture of how this messiah thing was supposed to work. So did most of the religious folk around them. It was just that their systematic theologies didn’t match up with God’s idea of messiah.
They had to stop and take a second look.
Religious people can be some of the most stubborn, closed-minded, arrogant, opinionated people on earth. Being one myself, I know something about them.
We have developed minutely differentiated beliefs, refining them to the point that we label and condemn one another by our theological and ideological differences. (“Your thoughts about God are not as pure, or right, as my thoughts about God. In fact, you may be a heretic…”)
We do not see clearly. Some of our theology no doubt looks as odd to God as a tree walking.
We would all do better to take a second look, or a third. God may still have some very different ideas about this messiah business.