A Provocation: February 26, 2018: Second Sunday in Lent: Mark 8:31-38

Mark 8:31-38
8:31 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.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 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.”

8:34 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.

8:35 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.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 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.”

A Question or Two:

  • Why do Peter and Jesus “rebuke” each other?
  • Why does the word translated as “rebuke” (ἐπιτιμᾶν) have a root that brings in the notion of living honorably?

Some Longer Reflections:

We have made the cross into a metaphor, and “cross-bearing” has become a mild kind of private religious activity.  To the extent that I am correct in saying this, we have decided to actively misunderstand what Jesus just said.

Jesus said that anyone who follows him will pick up their own cross and join the parade.  This is not a call to silently putting up with private pain (“Everyone has their own cross to bear”).  This is not a summons to heroic discipleship in which the REAL Christians carry conspicuously heavier burdens of their publicly displayed “ever-so-full-of-faith-ness” (which is, I believe, to be distinguished from anything that amounts to actual faithful living).

To the contrary, Jesus just said that anyone who believes that this is the moment when God turns the world right-side-up (which is the task of the messiah, after all) had better get used to the fact that Rome will win most of the fights.  Those with power will, for the most part, keep that power, and they will exercise it effectively most of the time.  Efforts to establish justice will remain a hope, even a demand, but they will be blocked (or co-opted) much of the time.

And Jesus is, therefore, also saying that efforts to seize power and impose the will of God on the world will result in our becoming the new Romans, the new torturers, the new oppressors.

Jesus is saying that the cult of victory is always apostate, even when the cause is, near as we can tell, justified and good.  The cult of victory is just that: a cult.  When you hail victory, you would do well to remember what “Hail victory” becomes when you translate it into German.  “Sieg Heil” is blasphemy, no matter what language you speak.

So join the parade.  The forces of cynical power will win, at least in part, this time, just like last time.  And the people in the parade, each carrying the cross that will defeat them, will be ridiculed again, as always.  We will be called snowflakes.  Or socialists.  Or gun-haters.  Or immature.  Sometimes the taunts will even be right.  I have probably always been a snowflake, for good and ill.

Remember, though, that this call to join the parade comes in the middle of a story about the God who raises the dead to life.  Even the crucified dead.

This is NOT a story that fetishizes death, making “cross-bearing” into a kind of theological masochism (“Ooh, it hurts so good”).  That is a dangerous misunderstanding of Jesus’ words.  Dangerous, but common.

This is a story that says that even when cynical forces win, again, we are called to join the parade behind God’s promise to turn the world right-side-up.  The thing that cynical power does not understand is that God raises the dead.  Oddly enough, that means that Rome is finally unable to stop the parade of faithful people who believe in the possibility of justice.

Join the parade.

One thought on “A Provocation: February 26, 2018: Second Sunday in Lent: Mark 8:31-38

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