A Provocation: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost: September 16, 2018: Mark 8:27-38

Mark 8:27-38
8:27 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?”

8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

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:

  • Who carried crosses?

Some Longer Reflections:

There is a lot going on in this passage.  There is plenty to explore in the matter of identifying Jesus, and even more to explore in the way the Passion Predictions shape and form the story that Mark is telling.

Those are matters for another time.

This week, a friend asked me about the word, “ashamed.”

At first look, there is nothing too interesting here, but the Greek does have its roots in our reaction to ugliness. 

This is an interesting link: shame is a shudder reaction in the face of ugliness.  On the one hand, I am tired of the casual acceptance of the way we react to things not classically beautiful, but on the other hand, this rootage imagines that we should shudder when we encounter unworthy action, action of which a person of quality ought to be ashamed.

Though shame has been used to silence people, especially women, still there is something here worth considering.  There are actions (all too common actions, to tell the truth) that ought to make us shudder.  I am not just referring to the sorts of things that the current president brags about having done, though that is an appropriate provocation for a shudder of rejection.  I am thinking these days of other actions, as well.  People of worth and honor ought to shudder at the notion that our only duty in our life together is to secure the best advantages for our own children.  We ought to shudder at the suggestion that all people in Flint need to do to get better water is to move somewhere else.  We ought to shudder whenever an executive claims a massive increase in salary and simultaneously argues that the financial times are too constrained to pay workers a living wage.

We SHOULD be ashamed of such behavior.

In the passage for this Sunday, however, the issue on the table is crucifixion

And that was both ugly and shudder-inducing.

So maybe what is at stake historically is the way following a crucified messiah linked people to all those who had been crucified, all those who were set up as ugly reminders of what happened to you when Rome singled you out.

So maybe this is more about solidarity with the outcasts who have been made ugly, and less about not being loud enough in your public Christianity, which is often how this text is preached.

If all Jesus is saying is that Christians should blow their own horn louder, and thus demonstrate that they are not ashamed of him, I will put my trombone quietly back in its case and move on to the company of people less sure of their own divine rightness.

But I think Jesus is making the fact of his crucifixion an index for our reaction to other people we consider to be “ugly.”  My sister lived two years with ALS, a disease that took her muscles one by one, and left her with what she called “an uncooperative skin-bag.”  She worried that people would shudder when the saw her.  Some did.  I listen to the way political trolls paint the victims of “officer-involved” shootings; I watch the way some news outlets tar those same families; and I recognize that they make their money by playing off the public “shame” that goes with being shot by a police officer.  Those trolls and their on-air stooges are trying to train us all to shudder at the victim, not at the act of unjustified violence.

Jesus says, I think, “Anyone who is ashamed of me will also be ashamed of the “least of these,” of my sisters and brothers” (to borrow a parable from the gospel of Matthew).

The crucifixion links Christian faith to people who get called “ugly,” who are “hard to see that way,” who are taught from childhood that they are targets for the anger of the larger society.  We may not find this linkage comfortable.

That just might be the point of Jesus’ words in this scene.

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