For Epiphany 7
Text: Mark 8:27-9:8
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”
After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”
Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
“Who do you say that I am?” This is the question that Jesus asks his disciples. It’s the question that Jesus asks us. Peter responds with what he believes is the right answer: “the Messiah.” And he is, of course, right. But only partially. See, Peter does not understand what the word “Messiah” means. Or rather, he does not understand it in the way that Jesus radically redefines it.
For much of Israel’s existence, Israel held the idea that one day a Messiah (anointed one) would come to liberate them from oppression. The Messiah would come and overthrow the political powers that ruled over them, that enslaved them or held them in captivity. The Messiah would set up an alternative kingdom. The Messiah would be a powerful political revolutionary.
When Peter confesses Jesus as Messiah, he still has this kind of idea in mind. Jesus was about to bring down the hammer and finally throw off their Roman overlords and set up a new kingdom of Israel.
But that’s not the kind of Messiah that Jesus is. Instead of talking about gathering an army and establishing a new rule, he starts talking about suffering, rejection, and death. Peter probably said something like, “I’m sorry, Jesus, what did you say? I’m sure I must have misheard you. When are you going to start organizing the revolt? We’re all ready! Let’s get this throne of David back in business!” Jesus pulls Peter aside and starts laying into him. “Get behind me, Satan! You have no clue what you’re talking about, and you clearly don’t have God’s ways on your mind!” Ouch. Harsh words for someone who would later be the Rock upon whom Christ would build the Church.
After Jesus rebukes Peter, he decides to gather everyone around him and make some things clear. He starts saying things like, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” I’m thinking this is not what Peter (or the others) thought they were signing on for.
To be followers of Jesus, we must be prepared to lay down power rather than to pick it up. We must be prepared for suffering and rejection. We must be prepared to go with Jesus to the cross. These words are hard to hear. We don’t want to listen to them. We just want to skip straight to the power and the glory part. The disciples did too. I think that’s why Jesus took three of them with him up onto the mountain where he was transfigured. God wanted to get their attention so he could give them a message. And just what was the whole message that God delivered on that mountain? “This is my Son whom I love, so you’d better stop talking about power and glory and setting up a new earthly kingdom, and LISTEN TO THE WORDS THAT ARE COMING OUT OF HIS MOUTH!”
God wants to get our attention. God wants us to listen to Jesus. God wants us to understand that the way of Jesus is the way of the cross. The fullness of God’s love is communicated to us through the suffering and death of the Messiah. Jesus embodies God’s love, and that self-giving love IS the power of God. The cross is inextricably bound up into that life-giving power and glory of God. If we are followers of Jesus, then we do not bypass the cross in order to get to the power and glory part. We don’t even go through the cross to get to the power and glory part. The cross itself is where we paradoxically find life and love.
I leave you with these words from Bishop Kenneth Carder: “When the love of power takes precedence over the power of love, both church and society have lost their way.” May we find ourselves living in the way of Jesus.
o What words, phrases, or images from the text speak to you? What thoughts or feelings do they evoke?
o With whom do you identify in this narrative? In what way?
o What is your reaction to Jesus’ teaching on suffering, rejection, and death?
Think about someone who has exemplified the self-giving love of Christ to you. If they are living, write them a letter, giving thanks for the way God has worked through them to help you know Jesus.
Meditate on the image of the cross. Whether looking at a photograph, a painting, or simply in your mind’s eye, sit and listen for God to give you a word. It might come in the form of a memory or a phrase or a feeling. Sit with it for a time.
God, you show me your love through the cross of Jesus Christ. Let his love move me and motivate me. Let his love shape me and pour through me. Lead me in his ways. Let me live in the power of his love rather than in the love of power. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.